Apr 16, 2016

Yet another massive earthquake in Kumamoto

Kumamoto in Kyushu had been hit by massive earthquake on 14 April which took lives of 9 people. Then at 1:25 am today, Saturday, yet another massive earthquake of magnitude 7.3 hit the area. This time, damage caused by the quake affected much wider area than the 14th one.

According to the reports, as at this moment, 15 more people lost their lives and around 1,000 injuries.

As at yesterday, we thought the damage was contained in small area of Mashiki town but this morning quake caused damage in much wider area, including neighboring Ohita prefecture.

At 2 pm, Japan time, today, Saturday, Bishop Miyahara of Fukuoka called a meeting of relevant members of the diocese to discuss about the plan to be help of those affected in the area. Caritas Japan is waiting to hear from this meeting of Fukuoka diocese to decide what step should be taken next.

Apr 15, 2016

Massive earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan

Massive earthquake of magnitude 6.5 hit Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu island, last night at 9:26 pm Japan time. According to the meteorological bureau, scale of an earthquake was measured as 7. Measured 7 earthquake does not happen so often even in Japan. It was only in 1995 in Kobe, 2004 in Niigata and 2011 in Tohoku. So it was quite strong earthquake. However, as its epicenter was inland, there were no fear of Tsunami.

Since then till this morning, there are more than 100 aftershocks including very small ones.  At this moment, according to news reports, 9 people lost their lives. May they rest in Peace. 

There are also number of reports of injuries and quite many houses are destroyed. Caritas Japan is continuing to gather information from the area at this moment. Kumamoto prefecture is under Fukuoka diocese and Caritas Japan will continue to communicate with the diocesan director of Caritas. As for Catholic Church facilities in Kumamoto, there are no serious reports of damages at this moment, though we do not have any information of members of Catholic community in Kumamoto. As far as what we see from TV reports this morning, most of damages are concentrated in one town, Mashiki.

Usually, for such emergencies, local government together with national government is ready to offer assistance to the victims without any delay. Self Defense Force, police and fire department in general are well trained and well eqquiped to take immediate action once such disaster happened in Japan. Local NGOs have their own role to play at this moment, however, other NGOs from out side the area would have much more role to play for rehabilitation phase of the disaster.

Mar 28, 2016

Happy Easter @ Niigata Cathedral

Happy Easter !

May the light of peace and forgiveness shine in the darkness and may the Risen Lord's hope and power bring new life to everyone.

During the Easter Vigil on 26 March in the Cathedral Church of Niigata Diocese, 4 people received baptism and 2 were received to the Catholic Church from other denomination. All these 6 also received sacrament of Confirmation.

At 7 pm, the Vigil Mass started at the main entrance area of the Cathedral with blessing of new fire and candle. The paschal candle was brought into the church by Fr.Ngaji, SVD, assistant pastor, who also sung Exsultet. After the several readings and Gloria with sounds of bell ringing, gospel was read by the pastor, Fr. Raul.

Then after the homily, 4 catechumens were called to the front for baptism. Three ladies, mother and two daughters, and a gentleman who is a school teacher, were baptized by myself. Then 2 candidates, a husband and wife, who had been baptized at a protestant community long time ago, recited the creed and received into the Catholic community. And I confirmed all these 6. Thank God we have now 6 new members in the Cathedral community which has been facing decreasing number of members because quite majority of them are over 80 years old today.

Next day, on Easter Sunday, the Cathedral was almost full. Well, that means there were around 160 participants in the Mass. Number of them attend Mass only once or twice, Easter and Christmas, a year. So what I can say is the 160 would be the reality of the size of this community despite, according to the official register, 700 supposed to be the number of the members of the Cathedral community.

While we were observing Holy Week this year, number of sad incidents happened around the world.  There were several bombing attacks in Brussels, execution of 2 inmates in Japan on Good Friday and bombing an a park in Pakistan on Easter Sunday which killed at least 67 people.

In the first reading of Easter Sunday, Acts of Apostles, Peter was giving his strong witness on Jesus Christ. We can imagine how they, disciples, felt after the killing of their Master. Fear, anger, hatred or regret. But Peter was talking about none of them. Rather he emphasized that those who believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness. Peter was changed to live new life as he met and believed in the Risen Lord. He was now more living in the old life of fear, hatred, anger or regret, but now he is living with forgiveness of the Lord, the face of Fathers's mercy.

What violence produces is fear and sadness which in turn produces anger and intent on revenge. Revenge just creates vicious circle of violence which, as history proves, has been destroying so many people's life and put so many innocent people in danger of life. That is not the world which God wants us to realize. And it is a terrible contradiction to capitalize name of God as excuse of using violence for any kind of solution of the problem as God is the one who created our life with so much love, love which forced God himself to die for us. Then how can God allow us to destroy life?

At the time of Easter, what we have to proclaim is forgiveness brought into us by Risen Lord who invites us to live in new life filled with mercy of God.   


Mar 25, 2016

On Good Friday in Japan

On this very sacred period for us Christians, Paschal Triduum, and particular on Good Friday, it is quite unfortunate to note that Japanese government has executed two convicted people this morning. It is also unfortunate to note that the Japanese government has record of executing 4 convicted people on the Christmas day in 2006.

Though I know, according to the government explanation on the issue,  the quite majority of general public in Japan supports government position on maintaining death penalty and, I know, quite number of Catholics in Japan also support this position. Therefore it is not easy task to realize Japan without death penalty and it seems almost impossible to abolish this system.

However, we, as member of one body of Jesus Christ, should give heed to our Shepard, Holy Father, on this particular issue. On 21 February this year after the Angelus, Holy Father appealed again to abolish death penalty.    Holy Father said that “the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value, and covers both the innocent and the guilty.” Then he continued saying “I appeal to the conscience of the rulers, so that we achieve an international consensus for the abolition of the death penalty.”

This call for abolishing death penalty has been repeated by previous Pontiffs despite the official teachings of Catholic Church do not forbid it.

But for Pope Francis, it is much more than repeating the same appeal as his predecessor. This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  So he appealed to the world leaders saying “I propose to those among them who are Catholics to make a courageous and exemplary gesture that no sentence is executed in this Holy Year of Mercy.”

It is true that Japan is not Christian country and our government is very much secular government with strict separation of religion and state. And it is true that our national leader is not a Catholic, though the number 2 in the cabinet is. And it is true that the execution is decided by minister of Justice who is also not a Catholic. So they have no obligation to consider Holy Father's appeal. However, only a few days ago on 19 March, foreign minister of Japan, Mr. Kishida, paid a visit to the Holy See and met with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, inviting Holy Father to visit Japan to pray for Peace in Asia and the World. When thinking about the seriousness and insistence of Japanese government to invite Holy Father to Japan, for which Japanese Bishops are also working on, I am a bit surprised to note the timing of today's execution. In any case, despite popular support for the death penalty in Japan, I have to repeat the appeal of Holy Father to abolish the death penalty in respect of human life.  

Feb 23, 2016

Ash Wednesday @ Niigata Cathedral

Ash Wednesday for this year's Lent was on 10 February and I presided over the 10 am Mass in the Niigata Cathedral with more than 40 faithful who managed to join the Mass despite of very cold and miserable winter weather.

Homily of the Mass on 10 February.

A few weeks ago, Holy See made announcement of a good news for us, the Japanese Church. The good news was the approval of martyrdom of Justo Ukon Takayama by Holy Father. I hope his beatification will take place soon, maybe early next year in Japan.

Justo Ukon Takayama was a ”Daimyo" or a feudal lord of 400 years ago. He was exiled to Philippines with his entire family because of his Christian faith in the end of 1614. He died in Manila on 3 February, 1615 because of tropical disease.

Last year, there was a symposium on Ukon and one of the speakers said something like following.

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Shogun at that time, decided to expel Ukon from his position because of his refusal to abandon the faith, Ukon's friends tried to persuade him to avoid conflict with his master, Hideyoshi. But Ukon did not give any heed to these advice saying he wanted to hold his honor as "Knight of Jesus Christ". Then he told his friends that there was not a thing to be altered in the matter of God. When his entire possessions, title and honor were confiscated, Ukon happily accepted all these as sacrifice for God in thanksgiving. He even thank God that now he became a man receiving mercy from others. Moreover, even in that situation, he did not forget to share what he received with other people in much more need. The life of Ukon is surrendering everything to God and that is the life of martyrs.

As you have noticed, Ukon was not executed such as our 53 blessed martyrs of Yonezawa who were executed by the local government at that time. Ukon died of tropical disease in exile. Holy Father, however, recognized Ukon as a martyr. This decision teaches us that martyrdom does not exclusively mean the fact that someone was killed because of the faith.

Ukon for his part sacrificed everything of his possessions, fame, honor and title for the sake of maintaining his faith. He even accepted these fact in joy of faith and became a witness of God to others through his words and deeds. That is the life of martyrs. That is why he is a martyr and his life teaches us the modern meaning of martyrdom.

"There is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." What would be the meaning of such resolution of Ukon for us today. We often make compromised choices mostly affected by relationships with others in order to avoid complications in our lives so that we may be able to survive through modern world saying these choices are down-to-earth or based on the realistic judgement.  In these circumstances, we often make compromise with our faith as we give priority to "realistic choices". Ukon's resolution in faith is telling us who live in this complicated realities that there are other choices to make. Ukon is the modern witness of choosing dignified way of life.

Be that as it may, it is not easy for most of us to choose such strict and unforgiving way of life as Ukon. Human weaknesses invite us to choose the way of compromise.

That is why Prophet Joel reaches us with his tender words.

"Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity"

Our heart will be in peace as we remember that we are wrapped around by mercy of the Lord.

As we are celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy, Holy Father, in his Lenten message, invites us as follows.

"In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17).

Then Holy Father teaches is how we should spend the season of Lent.

"For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated". 

On Ash Wednesday during the Mass, we receive ashes on our forehead. While receiving ashes, let us try to feel our smallness as compare to greatness of God. Let us try to feel the necessity to humble ourselves in front of our Creator. We are weak and always in need of help of God which is Divine Mercy and God is always with us and always ready to enfold us with his mercy. But we should not be a person of simply receiving gifts but be a person of sharing. That is why we need to share mercy of God to others through our "corporal and spiritual works of mercy" and that is also evangelization.  So what can we do during this lent season in our society?

At the same time, as I have mentioned, it is not a easy task to be like Ukon Takayama who lived the life of martyrs in great joy and maintained his resolution which was "there is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." Our faith, in many cases, are not solid like Ukon's faith but rather indecisive、easy to give way to temptations. We are weak being. However, though we are weak, God never forsake us. We are in his hand of mercy.

Feb 20, 2016

Caritas China Social Pastoral Conference @ Manila

Caritas Internatinonalis together with Caritas Asia has organized the 3rd China Social Pastoral Conference in Manila from 1 to 3 February which was attended by more than 30 participants including number of them representing 5 Catholic charitable organisations from mainland China.

Very first such conference was organised in Taiwan 3 years ago and the second one was in Macau. As for this time, President of the Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Tagle had a chance to give a talk to the participants as we gathered at his city, Manila.

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of Caritas national organisations all over the world. Though there are numerous number of diocesan caritas organisations in many countries, it is only the national organisation which received recognition from a bishops' conference are allowed to join the confederation. In mainland China, Caritas Hong Kong and Caritas Macau have been members of the confederation before they were returned to China. Then the current "bishops' conference" in mainland China has not been recognized by the Holy See with reasons you know well and I do not have to mention it. That means there is no national Caritas to join the confederation at this moment. But that does not mean that charitable activities of Catholic Church in China should be isolated from rest of Catholic world since we are acting based on the same faith.

There are number of diocesan charitable organisations existing in China which operates according to Catholic social teachings sharing the same faith. That is why we have been organising such forum for sometime to invite them to share the current trend in Caritas activities and also share information for further cooperation and support.

The past few years, China has been suffering massive scale of natural disasters. As a member of the common home, China is not exempted from the effects of climate change. The territory of China is vast and population is huge. A diocesan charitable organisation has limit in resources and experiences. Caritas Internationalis, without any political intention, is willing to work together with these diocesan charitable organisations in China who faces so many challenges when such disaster hits the area. Therefore, Caritas will continue to organize China Social Pastoral Conference to exchange ideas and information, and to search common grounds of charitable action as the same Catholic Church organisations.

Jan 16, 2016

New Year's Pastoral Letter@Catholic Diocese of Niigata

"We, the Church, are witnesses of Mercy"

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."  (Luke 6:36)

My Dear Sisters and Brothers of Niigata Diocese,

I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Jubilee of Mercy

Pope Francis has decided to launch a year long Jubilee of Mercy from last December 8 to this November 20.  In his official Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee, "Misericordiae Vultus” or “The Face of Mercy," he writes that "the Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person." (12)  Then he continues to write that "wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident." (12) Therefore, we all are invited to join and take part in this Jubilee of Mercy.

Since his election in March, 2013, Pope Francis has been emphasizing importance of Divine Mercy saying that everyone, without any exception, is enveloped by Mercy of God. Holy Father encourages us to take concrete action saying "let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ." (Evangelii Gaudium 49) Then he writes in the Evangelii Gaudium that "Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth." (209) Based on this call, Holy Father invites all of us to pay attention to "the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others." (210)
As we know, Holy Father invited each parishes to accept at least one family of refugees as Syrian refugee crisis deepened last year and he himself took concrete action of accepting a family in Vatican to show that he cares.

Pope Francis invites all of us to be witnesses of Gospel message which is mercy and forgiveness saying that "mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy." (Bull, 10)

What kind of reality are we living in nowadays? We easily make judgements over words and deeds of others and criticism or accusations are commonly heard of. We have lost tolerance in our relationships and overwhelmed by distrustfulness.  Don't you think that we find number of "heart warming stories" in TV shows or Internet sites? It must be that exit of tolerance from the real world forced us to look for it in somewhere as our instinct commands that we need it. If there is no tolerance in our society, then there would be no respect for human dignity. It is because selfish judgements would be given priority. Pope Francis often talk about realization of the society in which no one is excluded. "Globalization of indifference" is the term Holy Father uses to warn all of us to change our selfish minds. This warning is not only for individual level but also for relationships among nations.

In this Jubilee year, I would invite all of you to be witnesses of mercy and forgiveness of God in the midst of our society. Let us try to be witnesses of love and forgiveness of God through our words and deeds. And let us try to form our parish communities to be the place where people or any visitors could feel mercy and forgiveness.

As it has been announced, I have designated following 4 churches as the Jubilee Church with Holy Door of Mercy, namely, Niigata Cathedral, Takada, Yamagata and Akita. Also a year-long relay of prayers throughout the diocese has already started from Niigata Cathedral community. Holy Father is calling us to make this coming Lenten season special and spend it with much more attention while inviting us to organize and celebrate the “24 Hours for the Lord” on March 4-5, prior to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. While taking into consideration of local situations, I would like to ask each parishes to organize special events such as confession services or Eucharistic adoration.

On 14 February, the First Sunday of Lent, I will preside over the rite of election for the Catechumens in the Cathedral. The rite is meant for all catechumens in the diocese who are to be baptized this coming Easter, however because of distance, I am inviting catechumens from nearby parishes alone. Presence of Catechumens from other parishes remind the Cathedral community and Catechumens themselves that we are all part of one large community, the diocese, which, in turn, a part of universal Church which is one body of Christ.

On 14 and 15 September, there will be the Marian Day of Akita in Seitai Hoshikai in connection with the Jubilee of Mercy. While praying with Holy Mother, it will be special time to meditate Mercy of God through Mary, Mother of God. I invite you to join the day with me.

Introducing Chaplaincy to our Catholic Institutions in the Diocese

As is the case with other dioceses in Japan, there are number of Catholic Institutions in Niigata diocese. What I mean by the Catholic Institutions is that kindergartens, nursery, high-schools, junior colleges, child welfare facilities, home for aged and other social welfare facilities which claim "Catholic" as their identity.  In days past, these Catholic Institutions were headed by religious or priests. There were number of religious or priests involved in as their workers, too. In recent years, however, as Japanese society itself is heading into the aged society with few kids, Catholic Church in Japan has been suffering from decline of vocation with very few young priests and religious. That is the reason why, in our diocese, we have number of Catholic Institutions without any priests or religious as their head or, even, there are number of them without any priests or religious involved. I am sure this trend would continue for sometime. For example in Niigata prefecture, if I want to keep priests as the head of Catholic kindergartens, then I have to appoint a priest to more than one kindergarten as their head. And we are already facing limit of these double appointments of priests and have to appoint lay teachers as their heads.
In the light of this situation, the most important issue is how to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions. Therefore, in order to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions, I have decided to ask all these institutions to introduce the Chaplaincy system. If there are priests or religious being appointed as their head already, then they could be appointed as their chaplain. If their heads were not priests nor religious, then I have asked them to make a contract with priests or religious of their choices as their chaplain. Of course, one priest could work for several institutions as chaplain. These chaplains appointed outside from the institutions should not be involved in the administration but should be adviser on religious matters or conducting religious activities.

I hope through introduction of this chaplaincy, our Catholic institutions may be able to maintain their Catholic identity and deepen it further. The system will be introduced from 1st April.

Vocation for priests and religious

First and most, I would like to thank all of you in the diocese for your continuous prayer for priests and religious vocation. We did not have any seminarians for the diocese since Father Sakamoto had been ordained in 2009.  However, by God's grace, Mr. Shuta Oka from Hyogo prefecture has decided to be a priest for the diocese and will begin his formation in the National Seminary from April. Mr. Oka has been a temporary professed member of Benedictine order till last spring in the monastery at Fujimi, Nagano. It may take at least 6 years to complete the formation program so that kindly remember Mr. Oka in your prayer and also kindly continue to pray for the vocation.

To conclude this pastoral letter, I just want to mention number of points. First of all, about the rehabilitation activities in Tohoku area after 5 years of the disaster. Reconstruction and rehabilitation activities are progressing, though very slowly, but it may take more time to complete. Catholic Church in Japan has been mobilizing entire resources of our communities to support the area through Sendai diocese with assistance from Caritas Japan and will continue to do so till 2021, ten years after the disaster. As we will enter the sixth year of our support activities soon, let us reconsider what we can and should do as their neighboring diocese and let us put the idea into action. As time passes, we should not forget the people in the disaster hit area and resolve again to walk with them.

Then there will be the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, this summer. It will be held from 23 July to 3 or 5 August and the official pilgrimage group from Japan will be organized. I have appointed Fr. Katsuo Matsumoto, SVD of Akita as one of accompanying priests to the group. Youth living in Japan, regardless of their nationalities, aged from 18 to 35 are eligible to join the group. Application is open till the end of April. Any youth to join the group? It will cost around 300 thousand Yen to join the pilgrimage, though, there would be possibilities to send someone from our parishes if the community is willing to support him or her financially.

Finally, I make my pastoral visit for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts in even year and for Akita and Yamagata districts in odd year. Therefore, in 2016, I will make pastoral visits for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts. Usually I leave it to parish priests to propose date of such pastoral visits so that the date will not conflict with either parish schedules or my schedule.

May God bless you all in Niigata Diocese. May God of mercy and love guide you and protect you through out this new year, 2016.

1st January, 2016
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata