Fr. Jacques F. La Pointe

Fr. Jacques F. La PointeOccupation:
Franciscan Priest

Time in Japan:
Two years

What do you do here?
I' assistant pastor at the Franciscan Chapel Center. We're responsible for the expat population in Tokyo. My role is to be a spiritual guide, but I also offer support and help them integrate into Japanese culture.

What brought you to Japan?
I was supposed to go to Haiti, so I went to school every Saturday for a year to learn Creole. There was a coup d'etat, so I ended up in Tokyo doing an internship as a brother. I then returned to my seminary in Washington, DC where I was ordained as a Catholic priest in May of 1998. Now I've returned to Japan as an ordained priest.

Where are you from?
I'm from a small town on the border of Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. Half of my town is in the US and the other half in Canada. It's the same town, but it's divided into Van Buren on the American side and St. Leonard on the Canadian.

How do you like working in Roppongi?
It's like a roller coaster ride, to say the least! I see the reality of life in a big city: drugs, prostitution - you name, we see it.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen or experienced in Japan?
I don't think it would be considered weird, but more along the lines of the saddest thing I've seen. Young people who come to Tokyo are enticed by the fact that Japan is a prosperous country. They come with the preconceived notion that they can make a lot of money. They accept a job as a waitress and are eventually caught up in prostitution and drug use, which turns into a very viscious cycle.

How do you help young people who get into this "vicious cycle"?
I think that Franciscan Chapel Center is a way out. We don't judge and we don't point fingers. Our purpose is to help, with no questions asked. At times, we repatriate people.

What do you like most about Japan?
It's a dichotomy - what I love are also things I don't love about Japan. I love the fact that the people are so civilized, polite, and you always feel safe.

What do you dislike most about Japan?
Very often, everything looks really nice and smooth, but the other side is that many issues are not talked about or dealt with. There's AIDS, poverty, sex exploitation. Japan seems to put them aside like they don't exist. I don't like the status of women in this country or that 70 percent of child pornography produced in the world is done in Tokyo. I don't like that prostitution is accepted.

Japan is not a Christian society; therefore, they don't share some of the same beliefs that Christians value. How do you deal with this issue?
There are some wonderful, really strong values that I greatly appreciate in this culture. But I don't accept the fact that a married man can have a mistress. I see a lot of men in Roppongi drinking and partying late at night, and you know they have families at home. I don't see that as a Christian value, but as a human value. You don't need to be a Christian to believe in fidelity, the importance of family, trust, and faithfulness.

If you could take one thing back from Japan to your native country, what would it be?
I would take kindness back to America. I really appreciate the kindness and the consideration given to others. Most of the time in big cities, people are in too much of a rush to be kind. People in Tokyo will go out of their way to try to help you.

You have to spend the rest of your life trapped on the Yamanote line. You're allowed to take one book, one CD and one luxury item. What would they be?

I like spiritual books that give me hope, and really like the book The Horse Whisperer. The CD would be one by Polly Ferman, who is a classical pianist. And the luxury item would be the wet little towels to refresh your face, which I have become very attached to.

Father La Pointe is dedicated to assisting others through his involvement in various projects at the Franciscan Chapel Center: Rice (Feeding the Homeless), Outreach Repatriation, Prison, and Education Ministry Programs. He can be reached at Franciscan Chapel Center, 4-2-37 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 3401-2141; Fax: 3401-2142

Father La Pointe spoke to Tracee Walker

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