If you want to go to Okinawa from Kagoshima, midway along the route – after spending a night on the ship – you will come across the island of Amami. It is an enchanting place for its natural beauty, and the profound bond between the inhabitants themselves and with the environment. They say that in the rice planting season, the inhabitants had the custom of helping one another by going to each other’s homes when necessary. It was a lifestyle which the islanders still call the “bonding” spirit.
Missionaries have landed on the Island ever since the 19th century, bringing the Christian message which took root among the population. With pride, the inhabitants of Amami boast of three bishops born on their island, besides a great number of priests, religious men and women. It was precisely one of these priests, who launched an idea in 1996 during a retreat held on the island: “Why don’t you look into the Focolare? It’s a place where people live evangelical love and unity.”
Immediately some of those present contacted the centre of Nagasaki and the following year, two of them, after a night on the ship and travel of more than five hours by car, arrived at Sasebo, two hours away from Nagasaki. A Mariapolis was then underway: a happening of a few days for those who wanted to know more about the spirituality of the Focolare. These two people certainly never imagined that 19 years later a Mariapolis would be held also in Amami!
19 years in which the road has not always been easy. Joys, new spiritual energies, but also misunderstandings and all types of suffering – overcome by mutual love intensively lived – consolidated the new community in unity. And since unity is always diffusive, the community expanded with the desire to let all know what they had discovered. They spoke with friends and acquaintances. They visited seven parishes. Last May, 150 people of the island and some from outside, participated in the Amami Mariapolis. Some of these did not frequent religious groups; others were Buddhists, and still others were of diverse beliefs. There were also five priests and the Bishop of Kagoshima, Bishop Koriyama who confirmed: “The Focolare really suits the bonding spirit of Amami.”
Suddenly, sometime later, he wrote a letter of thanks to the community: “…among the fruits the Focolare brings I saw a new culture of faith take root, and the possibility also for non-Christians to freely come in contact with the Church without fear.” And he hoped that the Mariapolis would not remain an isolated event, but be repeated under some other form of activity during the year.
This encouragement filled all with joy. After discussing the matter, a letter was sent to all the parish priests of Amami, communicating the bishop’s augur, and the plan to hold a one-day Mariapolis, an event which took place last 25 October. The same letter also reached the Bishop who replied: “Congratulations! I am happy about this Mariapolis day, worthy to be celebrated and go down in the history of a new faith… I urge you to build, with a sole heart, the tradition of a new faith for the evangelization of the Amami Island.”