|Tetsuo Haraki, left, and his wife Hatsumi, right, have led five companions to baptism|
Five men and women who are part of a workshop for intellectually and emotionally handicapped people in Yokohama were baptized at the Easter Vigil this year.
The five work at Shalom House, a protected workshop in Yokohama, that last year celebrated its 20th anniversary.
The program was begun by a Catholic couple, Tetsuo (67) and Hatsumi (61) Haraki in their home. Now, 63 men and women work in three locations, assembling candy boxes and auto parts.
The newly-baptized spent two to three years in preparation for their baptisms at the Sueyoshicho Church, guided by Tetsuo Haraki. They have all worked at Shalom House for about 10 years.
The first member of the group to seek baptism was Kyoko Saito (50). Saito, who is intellectually disabled, was abused by her husband.
Because of stress, she began to abuse her children, who were taken from her and placed in a Catholic children’s home. Three years ago, her eldest daughter committed suicide, leaving a daughter behind.
Hatsumi Haraki said that the daughter’s funeral at a church became a turning point in Saito’s life.
“Kyoko indicated that she wanted to meet her daughter in heaven some day and is sorry for the abuse she inflicted on her child.”
Kyoko’s present husband, Takao Saito (50), is also mentally disabled. When he was a child, his mother deserted her family and eloped with a man.
Before doing so, she put her children into a drum and set them on fire. Takao’s younger brother and sister were killed. Takao survived, and made his way through life by lying. He met Kyoko in a flophouse.
Kyoko supported the debt-laden Takao. He said it was the first time in his life that he felt fully accepted by someone.
“I got to know that there is a world where I don’t need lies,” he said. He was baptized with Kyoko.
Toyohiko Takeda (54) used to be a construction day laborer, living in flophouses. He said his only relief from loneliness was alcohol.
When a doctor warned him that further drinking would kill him, his younger sister, a Christian, became his spiritual support. Eventually, he decided to be baptized.
The fourth member of the newly baptized group is Satomi Takahashi (51), who is severely retarded. When she was a child, her family home was near a railroad crossing where suicides were common. The house was frequently splattered with blood and body parts. As a child, she was often teased because of that.
In spite of her disability and a divorce, Takahashi brought up four children, supporting them by working in bars. Now, she has liver disease because of heavy drinking.
Speaking of her baptism, she said, “I want to be loved by God.”
At one time, Yukio Ishizaki (68) was a high-ranking businessman in a major company. He said he gave top priority to his job, to the detriment of his relationship with his family.
He retired at age 60, but by then he and his family had become totally estranged. His wife told him to leave and he was not invited to his daughter’s wedding. He turned to drink and became an alcoholic.
The underlying principle of Shalom House is that everyone helps one another as a “big family” and that all are welcomed no matter what is in their past.
Speaking of the instruction that he gave to the newly baptized, Tetsuo Haraki said, “Of course I tell them the Catholic Church’s fundamental teachings such as the Mass and the Eucharist.
“But the most important point that I want to tell them in daily life is, ‘You are all important persons loved by God.’”
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