Over 100 parishioners and friends gather for a group photo at the monument at the Manzanar National Historic Site on April 6. The monument was designed by Maryknoll parish member Ryozo Peter Kado. (Photo by Jose Rivera)


DESPITE THE HIGH winds sweeping Southern California — at least 60 mph — over the first weekend this month, two buses filled with Maryknollers, young and old, headed for Manzanar on April 6, stopped briefly at Mojave.

But I didn’t get off, as ambling about with a cane now, I feared of being blown down. Thank God, it wasn’t windy at all at Manzanar.

The unique aspect, thanks to the National Park Service, of this second St. Francis Xavier/Maryknoll pilgrimage was the Saturday noon Mass offered by Father Richard Hoynes inside the “restored” mess hall of Block 14, and eating a Japanese bento of seven different tastes: white rice with a tiny umeboshi on top, eggs, carrots and spinach Japanese-style, orange chicken nuggets and potato croquette.

As a luncheon was included in the $20 bus trip, at a Centennial Committee meeting two weeks before the pilgrimage it was decided to set up a buffet line to make your Subway-style sandwich at Manzanar. This was after a company in Torrance said they couldn’t prepare and deliver 100 small bentos by 6 a.m. Saturday.

In the meantime, those who go skiing at Mammoth or trout fishing in the High Sierras remembered a Japanese restaurant in Bishop (Yamatani: 760-872-4801), who delivered the Japanese bento. Those in Northern California might call ahead for bento takeout, if driving down the I-395 to Manzanar.

Before the buses left Little Tokyo by 7:15 a.m., hot coffee or tea was ready by 6 a.m., choice of blueberry muffin, bagel with cream cheese or doughnut in Ziplock bags and water bottle as a mini-breakfast.

Our route: the Hollywood Freeway, exit beyond Universal Studios to I-5 (to Sacramento), switch at State Route 14 (to Palmdale), and meet I-395 at Inyo-Kern. Continue northward through Lone Pine and within 10 or 12 minutes, we arrived at Manzanar around 11:30 a.m.

Wearing a white vestment (this being the Easter season), Father Richard said Mass and gave a bilingual homily. This was his second Mass at Manzanar since the camp was closed in 1945. He had offered the first Mass two years ago by the cemetery obelisk constructed by Maryknoll parishioner Ryozo Peter Kado in 1943.

In fact, this was the Manzanar Pilgrimage and Mass commemorating Father Lavery’s 10,000-mile parish in nine of the 10 internment camps.

Significantly it was my first Mass there, since I had visited Manzanar in 1943 on furlough from Camp Barkeley, Texas. Incidentally, Nisei GIs could not return to the West Coast after Pearl Harbor through 1942 in order to store their own personal effects while the Army was moving out persons of Japanese ancestry from Military Zone 1 in the wake of EO 9066.

A commemorative group picture was snapped around 3 p.m. at the monument. A row of folding chairs, thoughtfully stashed in the bus compartment, was set up for elders like me, while young tykes sat in the dirt before us.

First-timers, either from Japan or Hawaii, and postwar generation “X” were happy with the one-day experience to learn and hear about Maryknoll’s internment years (1941-1946) with Manzanar NPS staff historian Alisa Lynch; Sister Joanne Doi, whose doctoral thesis delves into Manzanar; Francis Kikuchi, 1939 Maryknoll School graduate and a  “Manzanite”; with Geoffrey Yamamoto as moderator of the panel after the bento at the mess hall.

A memento booklet issued at the pilgrimage — 16-pages, 7×8½” — features a painting drawn by F. M. Kumano of the Maryknoll Catholic Chapel on Block 25 in 1944. The pages are filled with photos and timelines of “Maryknoll-in-Los Angeles (1941-1945),” “Catholic Services in the Camps,” “Catholic Input on (Quakers’) Plan for College-Bound Evacuees,” “A Year After Pearl Harbor at Manzanar,” “WRA Questions Loyalty of Evacuees,” “Kado-san’s Landmark Contributions,” “Japanese Resettlement Years,” and the P.S. of Father Lavery’s 30-year ministry with Japanese Americans (1927-1956).

With talk drifting for another SFX-MKL pilgrimage next spring, at least bento will be no problem.

Pilgrimage chairperson Rick, son of the late Joseph Nakamura, UCLA graduate and an MISer, announced a slide show of pictures is on the parish website.

In the Manzanar mess hall after Mass, Maryknoll pilgrims enjoy lunch catered by Yamatani Restaurant in Bishop.

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