Junko Kusanagi found support in the form of the priests and laity at her local parish as she deepened her bonds with them (Photo: Mariko Terada / UCA News)

By Mariko Terada

Feb 22 2024

Junko Kusanagi, 49, lives in Tokyo with her Catholic husband, 53, and nine-year-old son . She says that her husband’s illness led her to faith, and that it has been “the start of our real life as a family.”

Although she studied at a Catholic high school and university Junko says she had no experience of being led to faith at the time.

As time passed, and she was preparing to marry, her husband-to-be told her, “I’m a Catholic,” as was his entire family.

“If I hadn’t been exposed to Catholicism at all, I might have had a negative reaction, but having been exposed to Catholicism it was easy to accept,” she said.

At the age of 39, Junko had a son. When her husband told her, “I want to have the baby baptized,” she could not make up her mind. So she asked her husband’s sister, “What do you think of infant baptism?”

Her sister-in-law, who was baptized as an infant, said that from an early age, she always had a strong feeling that “God is always there.”

Hearing that, Junko thought, “In that case, okay,” and was ready to agree to her son’s baptism.

Her son is an only child, and Junko recalls that her husband was relieved and happy that, “even if we parents were to die early, it would be okay because God is with him.”

The Kusanagi family moved to their current residence when their son entered elementary school, and father and son joined the Catholic Sekimachi Church.

Junko says that her life was carefree until October 2022. Then one day her husband telephoned and said, “I’m sorry to upset you, Junko, but I have cancer.”

He had just received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Junko was shocked and was so anxious that her husband said, “I’ve never known such an anxious person.” Sometimes she panicked.

On the other hand, her husband has never shown any signs of anxiety since receiving the diagnosis. He is not giving up on his life by any means, but he remains calm.

Watching her husband, Junko asked, “Why are you so calm?”

His invariable reply, “It’s okay. God is always here,” surprised her and she wondered, “Is faith so powerful?”

Until his illness Junko had thought of her husband as “a very kind, ordinary person,” but she realized that his faith from an early age supported and strengthened him.

From now on, he will have a long relationship with cancer. Junko felt that “I need to walk with my husband and I have to go in the same direction as he,” so she told him that she intended to be baptized.

She also felt that her husband may have thought that “if his anxious wife is baptized and entrusts her heart to God, she will be able to live with peace of mind.”

He was very happy that she was willing to be baptized and even said, “I’m glad I got sick.”

As soon as she made up her mind, Junko contacted the Sekimachi Church and heard that there was an introductory course that she started taking in April 2023.

A catechetical program sponsored by the Archdiocese of Tokyo has commissioned five catechists for the Sekimachi Church.

Each session begins with prayer and then the catechist accompanies the catechumen in exploring such themes as “the righteousness of God” and “the way Jesus lived.”

Junko’s introductory curriculum was completed in January, and until the baptismal ceremony, she will meet several times with Father Yasuaki Inagawa, pastor of the Sekimachi Church, for “wrap-up” sessions.

Kumiko Ogawa, 80, a member of the parish, supports the course behind the scenes as a liaison and has watched Junko’s progress from the sidelines.

She said that Junko is “already an important member of the parish” because she has started helping at the church and is involved with her son in the parish religious education program.

When the Kusanagi’s moved to their neighborhood three years ago during the Covid pandemic, Junko was stuck at home all the time.

Not having any “mom friends” the only person she could talk with was her husband. She was alone and didn’t have anything to do with anyone.

Junko, who has deepened her fellowship at the parish since her husband’s illness, now says, “God, Jesus, the church, the priests, and the laity are my total support. I can’t get through a week without Sunday.”

In the parish, there is always someone to talk to, someone who cares about her sick husband and prays for him.

“Until I started coming to church, I didn’t think the words ‘I pray for you’ could be so reassuring.”

Junko says that the support of the people of the parish saves and recharges her. She brings that recharged power home to cheer her convalescing husband and brighten their home.

Junko has chosen Raphaela as her baptismal name after Raphael the Archangel.

In the Old Testament book of Tobit, Raphael travels with Tobit’s son, Tobias, and teaches him how to cure Tobit who has lost his sight. Junko wants Raphael to protect her family in spirit and body, and to be with them and guide them.

“I want to continue to read the Bible, to encounter Jesus, and pray while thinking about the meaning of the words of prayer,” says Junko.

Junko Kusanagi will be baptized at the Easter Vigil at Sekimachi Church on March 30. – UCA News