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    Our dear departed

    Cyriel Smet

    Cyriel Smet

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    Frederic Vital Mees smallCyriel Smet (1926-2020)


    Born in Waasmunster (B) on May 9, 1929
    First vows on September 8, 1946
    Ordained Priest on September 12, 1954
    Missionary in Japan
    Died in Nibuno on December 7, 2020 at the age of 91

    Fourth among two elder sisters and two brothers, Cyriel grew up on a farm just outside the village of Waasmunster in the “Land of Haze.” His father had planted more than hundred apple trees and until the very end Cyriel would eat (at least) an apple a day, without peeling it. He saw the hard labor and frugal life of his parents and occasionally enjoyed riding a sturdy farm horse.

    Barely 16 years old he entered the novitiate in 1945. During his theological formation, he was not the only one to struggle with the upcoming new exegetical insights. He was ordained a priest in 1954 and arrived in Japan a year later by boat. He would learn Japanese while accompanying the boys of the minor seminary in Nagasaki for four years. In 1960 he was sent to the big parish of Okayama as vicar for two years.

    After spending one year in Tokyo to take a missionary-pastoral course, he was appointed parish priest in the newly founded church of       Mizushima. That was the city where the Japanese government had launched a petrochemical complex as a first national project in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. For ten years Cyriel learned here to be a pastor of the sheep, especially of the numerous migrant workers coming from the impoverished south of the country.

    Thereafter he worked for twelve years again in Okayama parish, this time as a team ministry member. Here he established his fame as the “giant of the apostolate” by preparing many people to receive baptism. During this period, he also participated in the charismatic movement to promote spiritual renewal in a stagnant ecclesial climate.

    He continued with the same missionary zeal for nine years in Tokyo’s Matsubara parish. Through a weekly workshop program developed by an Irish Columban missionary Cyriel invited people to encounter oneself, Christ and the Church community. Before its yearly start after Easter, Cyriel ordered tens of thousands of PR leaflets to be distributed together with other advertisements inserted in the different morning newspapers. Some 30 to 40 people of all walks of life would show up the first weeks, and some 15 eventually would ask to become Catholics.

    After the hustle and bustle of the megalopolis Cyriel was sent to Kasaoka church from where he had a nice view on the picturesque Japan Inland Sea. At its entrance he decorated a small room with icons about which he would give well-informed explanations to visitors curious about this peculiar form of Christian art. For Cyriel icons were “windows into heaven,” which could lead people to prayer and Christian hope.

    After 12 years, in his 80th year, he accepted the call of the Trappistines in Imari to serve as their chaplain. For 5 years Cyriel shared their contemplative life until he retired in 2014 to the CICM Residence in Nibuno. Tens of icons hung on the wall of his room and not so long ago Cyriel was invited to display them in a municipal facility at Mizushima, of course, after having leaflets distributed.

    Cyriel’s optimistic mind attracted and sustained not a few people. Characteristically he would advise: “When you have the choice, start by eating what you like most; for, thereafter you can eat, once more, what is the best.” With that positive outlook Cyriel courageously bore the sufferings of his ailing body and mind. Even when in the last mornings he clasped his heavy head between his big hands, he lifted his eyes to look through the window of the refectory in sheer admiration for the gently sloping hills of Nibuno. Cyriel was thankful for the coming of his Lord whom he has heralded throughout his missionary life. Though under pandemic restrictions, his funeral was celebrated on the Marian feast of December 8.

    Ludo Goossens