It was a miracle. Jun Yamada, suffering from an aggressive leukemia, was on his death bed. He lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. The doctors told the family he was unlikely to live more than half a day. They began to make funeral plans.
Then, to everyone’s amazement, including the team of doctors, Jun’s marrow started producing normal blood cells again. There was no medical explanation. Over time, Jun made a full recovery. The family and friends were awestruck. Yet this healing was too scandalous to talk about for decades.
Jun was a Japanese Mennonite and a student at a Catholic university. His father was a Mennonite pastor. When Jun became ill, many Japanese Mennonites prayed for him. One of Jun’s professors, Catholic priest Alfonso Fausone, also prayed for Jun and mobilized members of his order to pray. They petitioned Joseph Freinademetz, one of the founders of their order who had lived 100 years earlier, to intercede on Jun’s behalf. Freinademetz is often quoted as saying, “The language that all people understand is love.”
From the hospital bed, one could see the light in the monastery tower that was lit each night as priests and students prayed.
For three months, the priests provided a place for the Yamada family to stay, since their home was 500 miles south. There was profound respect and affection between the Catholics and Mennonites who cared for and loved Jun. During the crisis, the Yamada family participated in eucharist at the seminary. When death seemed certain, Jun’s father asked Fausone if he would officiate at the funeral. All this was unheard of in 1987.
The father called Jun’s brother, Nozomu, then a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., asking him to return home. Nozomu left the U.S. preparing to attend a funeral, but he found his brother still alive, although in extremely critical condition.
The father said, “Hope has arrived.” (Nozomu means hope in Japanese.) In those critical hours Fausone asked if he could offer the sacrament of anointing of the sick. The family welcomed this gift.
The next day, the doctors came with startling news that Jun was producing normal cells again. Six months later, Jun was discharged from the hospital. His doctors and other patients began to refer to him as a miracle man. Today, Jun is a professor of early church art.
The fervent prayers and the shared love of Catholic and Mennonite brothers and sisters that surrounded Jun were central to these events. Yet it was precisely this ecumenical boundary-crossing that made this healing too scandalous to talk about openly for decades.
Years later, first in the Catholic community, this miracle began to be told. The intervention of Freinademetz was credited with a role in Jun’s healing. In 2003 Freinademetz was named a saint. Jun traveled to Rome to meet the Pope and participate in the ceremony.
In August, about 90 people gathered at AMBS for an annual Mennonite-Catholic Bridgefolk gathering to hear the story of Jun’s healing and to celebrate the marvelous thing God had done through the shared love and intercession of Catholics and Mennonites. Some participants reflected that after years of quiet, going to Elkhart in 2015 was for Mennonites perhaps akin to going to Rome in 2003 for Catholics.
As I listened, I pondered the amazing healing God can bring when people who love Jesus and love each other work and pray together, despite profound differences.
Andre Gingerich Stoner is director of interchurch relations and director of holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA.