Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, July 3, 2015


Fred Vergara
(At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City, Utah. July 1, 2015)

Hiram Hisanori Kano

We, Asiamericans are eager to participate in this dialogue on race. But while it is true that American racism has been identified as a black and white divide, we want to frame it in the context of pluralism and diversity because our world is becoming more multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural. Asians too have been damaged by American racism.

When I first came to this country in 1986, I heard that Asians are the “model minority” and I was flattered. I learned later that it is not really because we “excel in Math and are hard-working” but it is because we generally we do not make waves. We live and work quietly and seldom raise our voices in the streets and in the halls of power even when we experience injustice.

The reason for this is not because Asians are generally passive or shy but because we have been rebuffed in American history. 

In 1882, after they have worked the transcontinental railroads and the mining industry, the Chinese pioneers were rebuffed by the Chinese Exclusion Act which deported them back to China.

 In the 1930’s, while working the farms in California and the canneries in Alaska, the Filipino men were rebuffed by the Miscegenation law which prohibited them from marrying and so many of them aged and died as bachelors. 

In 1942, during the Second World War, after they had become U.S. citizens, the Japanese Americans were rebuffed by the Internment Act which banished them in far away and remote places away from their own homes.

Shortly after “9/11” many South Asians (Hindus or Sheiks) who had been wearing turbans had to hide for fear of being identified as enemies in relation of Osama Bin Laden. In Fremont, California for instance many South Asian homes had to have American flags and signs saying “We are Americans” because of the threat against their lives.

The sad fact in this racism against Asiamericans is that it is not found in most American history books, and if they are, it is simply as footnotes. With regards to overt or covert racism, we are shamed and the way we react is to stay in the margins and remain invisible. 

But we cannot continue to remain voiceless and invisible forever. Asians compose 2/3 of the world’s population and here in the United States, Asian Americans have the fastest growth rate---second only to the Latinos. As more of us see new opportunities, it won’t be long when we would fully get involved in the mainstream American Church and Society. 

That is why we are glad that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this year had approved the name of the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano to be included in the Episcopal Church Calendar of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” We are grateful to the Diocese of Nebraska for sponsoring the resolution.

Father Kano was a noted agriculturist and bold advocate for immigrant farmers in the 1930’s who became the first Japanese to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska. During the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which called or the internment of Japanese Americans. 

Along with over 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent, Father Kano was incarcerated in the infamous Internment Camps. What is remarkable in his attitude was that he used adversity as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel not only to his fellow internees but also to the German prisoners of war. He treated the five internment camps not as prisons but as mission fields and was appreciated as a pastor even by Anglo American G.I. deserter-prisoners. His message was a self-transcending Christian love, a deep-rooted faith in the goodness of human beings, and a positive hope for racial reconciliation. He taught his fellow Japanese internees about American citizenship and the ideals of e pluribus unum (many to one) and treating German POW's as fellow children of God.

In the eleven years I serve as Asiamerica Missioner in the Episcopal Church, I have seen many sea-changes in The Episcopal Church's approach to mission and ministry. In a peculiar combination of pastoral-enterprise and sophia-wisdom, we ventured into pathways which no other catholic church or province in the worldwide Anglican Communion has trod. In 2003, we elected the first openly-gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson; in 2006, we elected the first woman presiding bishop, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori; and in this 2015 General Convention, we made another history by electing the first African American as the next presiding bishop, Bishop Michael Curry.

In a remarkable serendipity, this 78 General Convention also approved “same sex” marriage at about the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality and ruled that "same sex marriage" is legal and constitutional. Indeed this Episcopal Church is  la iglesia catolica that is also ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, the reformed church that never ceases to reform. 

With regards to race and gender advocacy, the Episcopal Church has become an avant garde. But there are still many things to do in the task of mainstreaming the marginalized. 

In the history of the Episcopal Church, there has not yet been any Asian invited to preach at the General Convention and it is our prayer that one day the Convention will also hear an Asiamerican voice. That is why we are glad that today, in the presence of The Most Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu, Archbishop on Nippon Sei Ko kai and Primate of Japan and (Cyrus Kano, the 94-year old son of Hisanori), the Eucharist was held in honor of Father  Kano.
The loud and hopeful sounds of the Taiko drums in the Convention Eucharist this morning signify the beats of our hearts, our yearning and passion to participate fully in the building of God’s reign in America. The sounds of our gongs and our drums signify our desire to share our talents in the proclamation of the gospel of love, justice and reconciliation for the glory of God and the growth of God’s Church.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara is missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), The Episcopal Church. He can be contacted at wvergara@episcopalchurch.org. or Facebook: Fred Vergara.

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