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Hospital chaplain receives 16,000 paper cranes

Pastor Kazuhiro Sekino asked social media for cranes and received thousands from Japan.

MINNEAPOLIS — The role of a hospital chaplain can be one that weighs heavily on one’s shoulders.

“I started my work last September, which means I’m doing this job like six months,” Pastor Kazuhiro Sekino said. He is the resident chaplain at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

“It’s really the first time for me to work out of Japan,” he continued. “It’s quite a challenge.”

His whole career in America started with a challenge too. His arrival to Abbott Northwestern took what could be understood as divine intervention.

“In the beginning, I was supposed to come here in May but I canceled three times,” he said. “Because of pandemic, riot and many things happened at the same time. But somehow I could come here in July. It was almost [a] miracle.”

Because a chaplain was so pivotal during the time his family spent at the hospital with his sick sister, Sekino said he always knew chaplaincy would be his work. His sister luckily recovered, and he said the chaplain at that hospital meant a great deal to his family during a difficult time.

Here in Minneapolis, half way across the globe from his home, he felt moved to fold something into the dark COVID routine that had taken over most of the hospital.

It all started with his first COVID patient ever.

“I was super scared,” he said. “Of course it was recommendation I wear gown, gloves and goggles and hard face masks. My language was limited because of the hard face mask and time was limited. So that’s why I got an idea that I can make a paper crane as a Japanese chaplain and hand him as a symbol of healing and hope.”

And the meaning of an origami crane?

“In Japan, making a paper crane, especially collecting 1,000 paper cranes tied together–it is an intense prayer for healing and seeking peace.”

And what better place for healing and peace than a hospital?

So Sekino turned to his YouTube channel and asked his Japanese followers, would they be so kind, as to send him some cranes?

“Some schools and communities started making together, with so many people, and its amount is 16,000,” he said. “Which I never expected.”

Pastor Sekino ended up with more than 16,000 cranes. Most of them can be found in the main lobby. The paper birds are the first to greet patients and visitors.

“The hospital is not a super fun place to visit,” he said. “They’re looking down because there are so many emotional distress to visit the hospital. But once they step into the hospital, first thing they see is this paper crane, so they can look up– something they didn’t expect.” 

Sekino said he’s glad the cranes, crane the necks of those who walk in. Physically looking up, but maybe also emotionally too.

It takes 24 folds of a square to make just one crane. Each fold, perhaps a prayer or a kind thought from Japan to America.

“It’s kind of a bridge from Japan to here,” he said.

As phrases like ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ start entering our rhetoric again, the origami that carried Abbott Northwestern through a pandemic– is morphing its message.

They’re not reminding us that we’re inevitably strung together.

“Seeing these paper cranes, all the colors and shapes are different,” Sekino said. “I think it’s this place, what our society should be. Colors are different, sizes are different, but we can create more hope together.”

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