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Episcopal blast from the past

NAHA (UCAN): The diocese of Naha on the tropical island of Okinawa produced a blast from the past when 63-year-old Father Wayne Berndt was appointed as the first foreign bishop in Japan since 1941.
Okinawa has long been the domain of the Capuchin Friars from the United States of America (US) and Father Brendt came to Naha as a seminarian in 1981, just two years before his ordination to the priesthood.
However, Okinawa has a unique history. As part of the Ryukyu Islands, much of its history, culture and folklore are more related to Korea and Taiwan than mainland Japan and from the end of World War II until 1972 it was a US protectorate, in what was locally known as the dollar era.
Tourists visiting the popular resort, especially those escaping the shivering winters of the main islands of Japan during its mild winter days, know that they are visiting a foreign land rather than another part of their own country.
With an incomprehensible dialect to the average Japanese visitor, locals can shrug and brush off their presence as being from Japan and readily differentiate between Okinawans and Japanese.
The huge US military bases that occupied large swathes of the city of Naha virtually dividing it into two separate parts and also ensured a large English-speaking population that influenced life in the diocese.
Father Brendt has worked both in Naha and Saitama in Japan, where he was in charge of a centre for migrant people.
Naha today has a Catholic population of around 6,200 and eight diocesan priests, as well as four permanent deacons serving 13 parishes.
Bishop Felix Ley was the last US bishop and had responsibility for what was known as the apostolic administration of Ryukyu. After Okinawa reverted to Japanese administration in 1972, it was included in the apostolic vicariate of Guam for a short while, before Naha became an independent diocese.
Father Brendt will succeed his Capuchin confrère, Bishop Berard Toshio Oshikawa, who announced his resignation recently. He will be ordained a bishop on February 12 next year.
While a foreign bishop in Japan may seem like a blast from the past, Father Brendt has the support of the Catholic people of Naha.

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