It was on March 18, 1937 that the famous Icelandic convert to the Catholic faith, Jón Svensson SJ, arrived in Japan by ship on a lecture tour and residence that was a significant event in cross-cultural relations as war clouds began to cover the world’s skies. Already known in his native country as Iceland’s Mark Twain or a second Hans Christian Andersen, Fr. Svensson wrote children’s books inspired by his youth spent in the isolated country in the North Atlantic. The character ‘Nonni’ of his books, and Fr. Svensson himself, would become equally celebrated in the Land of the Dawn. An inveterate storyteller, Father Svensson was also a Jesuit priest. Upon arriving in Japan at the age of 80 years, he thoughtfully said “Jules Verne saw the world in eighty days and I wanted to see it in eighty years!” He would live until 1945. Father Svensson travelled to Japan in order to follow the trail of St Francis Xavier, the model priest and missioner who brought Christianity to the country in the 1549, and put in ‘X” in the middle names of so many Catholic boys all over the world. He remained one year in Japan and lived at Sophia University, a Catholic Institution in Tokyo founded by the Jesuits. The current Empress of Japan would eventually become a student there. The rector at that time was Father Hermann Heuvers SJ, who became a close friend of the Icelandic priest. Also arriving in Japan in 1937 was Father Klaus Luhmer SJ, a German-born priest who served as vice-president of the university well into his 8th decade, who also became acquainted with Nonni in his first years in Japan. The priest gave more than fifty lectures during this second visit to the country, mostly at schools and universities. He spoke in French, German or English, travelling with a Japanese interpreter. At the Jiyu Gakuen school in Tokyo, for example, 600 pupils received one of his lectures with great enthusiasm.
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