Aug 3, 2014

"You yourselves give them something to eat!"

In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of Gospel), there are two key words for Pope Francis as he explores the root causes of social justice issues which are "exclusion and inequality." For example, in denouncing the modern economic system he writes as follows.
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.(53)

Then he explains these two terms as follows.
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. (53)
It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.(53)

On the 18 Sunday of ordinary time, Gospel message was from Mathew 14:13-21, the famous story of five loaves and two fish. Based on this gospel passage, Caritas Internationalis has been campaigning against world poverty which is called "One Human Family, Food for All" campaign and will continue till May 2015. Caritas Japan is also joining this campaign and using "Five loaves and two fishes" as our title of campaign in Japan.

In Evangelii Gaudium, the key image of the Church is the "Church which goes forth", so he explains his understanding as follows.
Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.
Then he explains as we go forth, what would be our priorities.
If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked,(48)
We should not just wait for someone to take action to reach out to those excluded or discriminated. It is us to take action as Jesus commanded disciples that "you yourselves give them something to eat!" Jesus did not want his own flock to be dispersed and find solution for their problems on their own. Rather he prefers to keep his flock together despite heavy burden and give sufficient consideration and care among each other. No one should be excluded. No one should be forgotten.

It is not just talking about food issue. It is also the same for making peace. As we have been witnessing brutal killings of innocent civilians especially children by military forces and armed group in Gaza for past few weeks, we should know that weapon and sword could not bring peace but death, exclusion, hatred and division. I think, as some politicians are claiming recently, we may need peculiar kind of courage to claim that military power could be deterrent power to prevent war. We have to avoid any way to divide people, any people because we all belong to one and only flock of God. This is high time that we should learn the way to give sufficient consideration and care among each other so that we may be able to build one united flock of God.  And that is not the duty of someone else, not for politicians, not for world leaders, but the duty of all of us because Jesus commanded that we should not rely on others but we ourselves give them something to eat.

Pope Francis is visiting Asia for first time soon. He will be in Korea from 14 to 18 August. Japanese bishops are also invited to join the celebration with Holy Father. I will be there on 16 to attend the beatification Mass of 124 martyrs and on 17 for closing Mass of Asia Youth Day. As he comes to us, we have to be ready to respond to his call to "go forth".

Jul 24, 2014

Caritas Internationalis statement in the UN

Below is the joint Statement of Caritas Internationalis delivered during the  21st Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation  in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem in Geneva, 23rd  July 2014;

Joint Oral Statement submitted by Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities) and co-signed by Dominicans for Justice and Peace (order of Preachers)

Mr. President,

Caritas Internationalis and Dominicans for Justice and Peace express their deep concern on the renewed tensions in the Holy Land and the grave violations reported in the Gaza Strip which are exacerbating the already complex and urgent human rights and humanitarian situation for most civilians.

The whole population in the Gaza Strip is suffering and the loss of innocent civilian lives has been deplorable. Since the beginning of the hostilities, more than 600 people have been killed, over 4000 injured, amongst them many children and women , and more than 102,000 are displaced . The number of civilians killed and injured is growing every day.

Caritas Jerusalem – the Caritas member organization in the Holy Land, which provides basic primary health care services and humanitarian assistance to the affected population through a medical center with outreach services to six local health committees mainly composed by volunteers - reported that more than 15,000 houses of civilians and 30 medical centers have been destroyed by the airstrikes and 122 schools bombarded. They further inform that unexploded ordinances and explosive remnants of war present a major hazard to the population, particularly to children, when they leave their place of shelter to search for their belongings among the rubble of their destroyed houses.
Although Caritas continues its disaster relief and ongoing humanitarian assistance and development work in the area, movements inside Gaza have become dangerous as a result of frequent bombings being imposed on the local civilian populations. An immediate ceasefire is vital to help the citizens of Gaza and the Occupied Territories to preserve their human life and dignity.

Mr. President,

During the special prayers for peace in Israel and Palestine, convened in the Vatican on June 8, 2014, Pope Francis said: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity”.

Hence, we urge both parties to take the courage to break out of the cycle of violence and to say yes to peace and no to violence and hatred to ensure a better future to their children.

Finally, in addressing this distinguished assembly we:
• Call on both parties to the conflict for an immediate ceasefire in order to enable humanitarian and medical relief supplies to reach people in need.
• To lift the blockade on Gaza lasting for the past 12 years and open the crossings from both the Egyptian and Israeli sides to ensure the freedom of movement and allow recovery efforts.
• Urge all parties to the conflict, Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups, to respect their obligations under the International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law to take all measures to protect the lives of civilians from both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, and refrain from targeting civil objects and populated areas.
• Call on the international community to use all its influence to ensure that existing peace agreements are upheld to achieve a fair solution to this long and exhausting conflict, and in particular to end occupation as it is the main cause for the conflict.
• Request appropriate Human Rights Council’s Special procedures and mechanisms to ensure an effective follow-up to the implementation of its decision.

Jul 15, 2014

Japanese Bishops' Statement of protest

As the Japanese government on 1 July made historical change of interpretation of the Constitution on the National Security issue, the standing committee of Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ)issued a statement of protest on 3 July. It has been translated into English and you may find the text of the statement in this link of the homepage of CBCJ.

According to the statement by the standing committee, the Cabinets of the past have maintained the interpretation of the Constitution that "the exercise of a right to self-defense allowed under Article 9 means a nonaggressive national security policy in all cases, while the exercise of a right to collective self-defense, which enables the use of force even when our country has not been attacked directly, is ruled out by the Constitution and thus constitutionally unacceptable."

As you may know, after the unconditional surrender by Japanese Government to the allied forces in 1945, Japan changed its Constitution in which Japan commit itself to permanent peace and especially in the Article 9 the renunciation of war is stipulated. Article 9 reads as follows.

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

But immediately after the promulgation of the constitution on 3 November, 1946, war in Korea broke out in 1950. Because of this drastic change of security environment in the area, the occupied authority led by US requested to re-establish a kind of military in Japan. That was the beginning of the Self Defense Force. Japanese military which we have now are never recognised as military as such but as Self Defense Force because of the interpretation of the Article 9 which, according to the past governments, allowed Japan to have a minimum armed force to protect its territory and people. Thus it is not "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential" but minimum necessary self defence force without the right of belligerency.

However, again the drastic change of international security environment made international society led by the US requests Japanese government to allow the SDF to be involved in peace keeping operation under UN. That is the reason why SDF has been part of several peace keeping operation under UN flag but try to keep out from actual exchange of fire. It could be unrealistic for many that a military force involved in peace keeping operation is not allowed to use its own weapon except the case of strict self defence. But that was because of the interpretation of the constitution by the past government and there was the reason to do so if we read the constitution literally.

Now according to the new interpretation by the present cabinet of the constitution, Japanese SDF may join the collective self defence even though Japan itself is not attacked. Of course, the prime minister strongly declared that he has no intention to send SDF to actual military operation abroad. But as the interpretation has been changed by just one cabinet without prior discussion in the parliament means the same tactics could be employed by future cabinet to make wider interpretation.

Bishops of Japan believe that "it is false to think that national security can be ensured by military buildup and the use of force. This is a dangerous idea that aggravates distrust among nations and shatters peace. Moreover, the backtracking on the principles of the Peace Constitution at this moment obstructs the easing of tensions in East Asia so that dialogue and trust among nations will be beyond our reach. Peace is built solely on respect for the dignity of all. Peace can be built only by sincere reflection upon history and apology for past conduct followed by forgiveness."

As 10 days of Peace which will begin on 6 August, the memorial of Hiroshima, through 15 August, the day of surrender of Japan, we have to think about how to realise peace in this world. When we see actual conflict in present days, such as the terrible conflict between Israel and Palestine, we feel as if it is impossible to achieve peace without military power. But, at the same time, when we see so many people, especially children, are killed for no reason, we can not just keep quiet. These people, each one of them are precious creature of God possessing precious gift from God that is human life. We have to continue to pray for peace and peaceful negotiation to end such brutal killings. And we also have to be sensitive to any move of governments to find excuses to go into military action to resolve international conflicts.     

Jun 28, 2014

National Meeting of diocesan directors for Sendai relief and support met in Fukushima.

National meeting of diocesan directors for relief and rehabilitation activities on the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011) met in Koriyama Catholic Church, Fukushima prefecture, from Tuesday 24 June to Thursday 26. More than 70 people attended the meeting. Participants were either diocesan directors appointed by respective bishops in charge of relief and rehabilitation activities in disaster hit area in Sendai diocese (Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima) or their collaborators. Each of 3 ecclesiastical provinces have their own base of activities within Sendai diocese under the coordination of Sendai Diocese Support Center and Bishops' Conference Support team for which I am in charge. (Photo above: waiting for an opening session in Koriyama Catholic Church in Fukushima prefecture)

The participants were divided into three groups for area visits, one for Iwate, the other for northern Fukushima and the last one for southern Fukushima. Entire group met on Wednesday evening in Koriyama. I joined the third group which went around southern Fukushima for two days.
First day of the group 3. We visited Shirakawa city, southern end of Fukushima, to meet with a local counseling group led by Catholics to visit temporary housings for evacuees from Nuclear Power Plant accidents. We also went to Iwaki to meet with evacuees of Tsunami who are preparing to move into government provided new housings from temporary residence. (Photo above: Ms.Kanazawa, a leader of the house visit and counseling group, "MIMIZUKU" of Shirakawa city sharing her experience)

On the second day, we visited town of Naraha and Tomioka quite close to the Fukushima Daiichi (NO.1) nuclear power plant. We could pass by the Fukushima Daini (NO.2) nuclear power plant and approached to the Daiichi. Then the road was blocked by police barrier in Tomioka. The local government of Naraha are preparing to return to the original community but even the officials of the town were not so sure how many people would actually come back. Then Naraha town which is closer to the Daiichi power plant has been divided for the area for which residents are able to return and the area for which residents are unable to return. Inside the town, we could see one side of the road is restricted and the other not. Community are divided. People are divided. (Photo above: Officers of the Naraha town office showing the participants of the group three how to measure radiation)

On Thursday morning, we met in Koriyama Catholic Church to listen to stories of 8 people working in Fukushima prefecture for evacuees. There were so many different stories. Even though the rehabilitation program moves very slow, those in Iwate and Miyagi have, at least, some hope for future. But those in Fukushima, especially those near to the nuclear power plant have difficulty to find hope for future. Already some decided not to return. What would be happen to these local communities which are already losing their residents because of aging society. (Photo above: JR Tomioka Station after 3 years of Tsunami. Becasue of radiation, residents are not allowed to return and, thus, the station and town hit by tsunami remains the same)

The meeting ended with Mass by Bishop Hiraga of Sendai at Koriyama catholic church on Thursday afternoon. Since then I have moved to Akita to stay with members of the Seitai Hoshikai till Sunday.(Photo above: Inside the town of Tomioka. In front, there are barrier to prevent anyone to enter. Right hand side is the area to which residents are not allowed to return. Left hand side, residents are expected to return in near future.)

Through the meeting in Koriyama we leaned a lot about complex situation in Fukushima. Japanese Bishops are against nuclear power plants in Japan. At the same time, Bishops are calling to change present life style in Japan which consumes a lot of energy. Of course, Bishops do know that we can not force Catholics to have same opinion over this issue with us. We know there are different opinion within Church itself. We know there are voices against return to Fukishima because of radiation. We also know there are voices assuring safety of Fukushima. But what we can say is that ordinary people's ordinary life was destroyed in many ways and into many directions because there had been nuclear power plants in Fukushima. As we see the reality of people in Fukushima, we are not able to keep our mouth shut. So much issues in different levels have been mixed together to be the cause of difficulties for people's everyday life and that makes objective discussion almost impossible.

In any case, the point is quite clear. Come and see the reality of people. People are deprived of their ordinary life. It is quite a challenge for most of them to claim them back. Majority in the society do not care anymore of the difficulties which people in Fukushima face everyday in order to maintain their daily life. Even though they are not responsible to what has been happened in Fukushima, people have to take responsibility to make choices of their life. This is not the issue contained within the boundary of Fukushima prefecture. It is the issue for entire Japan and we should not forget daily sufferings of people in Fukushima. Communities are divided. families are divided. Firends are separated. All for what reason? (Radiation meter in front of Futaba town temporal police station.)

Jun 7, 2014

Interviewed by the Vaticaninsider

I had been interviewed by thc Vaticaninsider a few days ago on the present situation in Fukushima and the activities of Caritas Japan. It was published a day before the visit of PM of Japan to Holy Father on 6 June.

You may follow the link of UCAN below.

A comment of the President of CBCJ on visit of PM Abe to Holy Father

The President of Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ), Archbishop Peter OKADA of Tokyo, has just issued a statement on visit of Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe, to Holy Father on 6 June at the Apostolic Palace in which PM of Japan invited Holy Father to visit Japan. Following is a full text of Archbishop's statement.

Comments on the News that Prime Minister Abe
Has Invited Pope Francis to Japan
It has been reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Pope Francis on June 6 and invited the Pope to visit Japan. Pope Francis, a servant of Christ working for peace, guides Catholics as head of the Catholic Church in the world and the sovereign of the Vatican City State. Japan has long valued its diplomatic relations with the Vatican City State, and this invitation can be regarded as a part of that attitude on the part of Japan.
Meanwhile, in October 2013, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan sent the Pope a letter requesting the honor of his presence in Japan. However, we have not yet received a letter of acceptance.
Today on this occasion, I, as the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, have prepared some brief comments so that those within and outside of the Church can understand why we earnestly desire to invite the Pope to Japan.
1.     We truly wish that the Pope would visit the East Japan Great Earthquake disaster area and pray with people there. We desire from the bottom of our hearts that the Pope will listen to the voices of those who are suffering from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Accident that occurred due to the earthquake. We hope that the Pope will join us in praying for divine support and assistance for the decades-long work of reconstruction and coping with the accident. Based on our belief that the nuclear accident was ultimately caused by human arrogance, we have begun a campaign to abolish nuclear power plants. We hope that Pope Francis will bless our efforts and convey this appeal to the world.
2.     We Japanese people deeply regret our past conduct that led to the Second World War, and have promulgated the Constitution of Japan, known as the Peace Constitution, under which Japan forever renounces war. Since then we have carried on as a nation which refuses to wage war, and we have contributed to world peace. We are sure that such conduct will be well received by the Pope. As is well known, Japanese citizens who have maintained Article 9 of the Constitution have been nominated as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. We sincerely wish that the Pope would encourage and inspire the Japanese people who have such a wonderful Constitution and continue to appeal to the world for the renunciation of war.
       Moreover, as Saint John Paul II did 33 years ago when he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we fervently hope that Pope Francis will appeal to the world to not repeat the tragedy of war anymore.
3.     The Catholic Church in Japan hopes that the beatification of Ukon Takayama, a Christian feudal lord, will be realized in the near future. We would be overjoyed if the Pope could preside at the beatification ceremony in Japan. In addition, on March 17, 2015, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Hidden Christians who had kept their faith under severe persecution. Their existence was revealed at Oura Catholic Church in Nagasaki. We would be deeply grateful if Pope Francis would encourage us in deepening our faith and conveying widely the message of faith to others. We also expect that a visit by the Pope would be an occasion for promoting and advancing inter-religious dialogue in Japan.
Pope Francis plans to visit South Korea this August, then Sri Lanka and the Philippines next year. If a visit to Japan by the Pope is realized, we believe it will be an especially encouraging opportunity for the many Japanese people who seek peace. It will also be a special occasion for the poor, and those who sorrow and suffer to feel close to the love of God.
We, the Japanese bishops, are determined to pray and make every effort to make possible a visit of the Pope to Japan. We deeply appreciate your understanding.
June 7, 2014
Peter Takeo Okada, President
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan

May 31, 2014

Annual pilgrimage to AKITA

After my return from Amman, Jordan for Caritas Internationalis Representative Council which took us even to Jerusalem for a brief pilgrimage, I joined a group of 14 from Niigata for yet another pilgrimage to AKITA.

Though AKITA is in my diocese, Niigata, it takes at least 5 hours drive or 3 and half hours train ride to reach there from Niigata city (Photo above: a new express train between Niigata and AKita). This pilgrimage is an annual event for a Rosary group called GETUYO-KAI in Niigata which literally means "Monday Group" as they meet once a month on Mondays in Cathedral. I usually celebrate Mass for them and join their Rosary recitation.

The group was founded by late Bishop Shojiro ITO, the first Bishop of Niigata with faithfuls who witnessed miraculous incidents with a wooden statue of Holy Mother shed tears for 101 times 30 years ago in AKITA.  Bishop ITO himself also witnessed the incidents and in 1984 in his Easter Pastoral Letter, he recognised the incidents as miraculous and also the message given to a Sister authentic, and gave permission to organize pilgrimage to the site. The site is now called Marian Shrine of Akita in Seitai Hoshi kai (Handmaids of Holy Eucharist). Seitai Hoshi Kai is a secular institute of consecrated life established by Bishop Ito prior to the miraculous incident.  Official stance of Niigata Diocese to the Marian Shrine in Akita has never changed since Bishop Ito's time and everyone is free and welcome to organize pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine in Seitai Hoshi Kai in Akita.

Last year in October, Niigata Diocese was invited by Rome Diocese to join the Marian Day for the Year of Faith and organised a vigil prayer service in Akita with other Marian Shrines in the world. It was televised live through Italian TV station.

So after I arrived at Narita Airport on 21 May morning, I proceeded to Sendai to join the support meeting for rehabilitation program by Sendai diocese for 2011 disaster victims. Unfortunately I just missed the meeting. I was late. Then I proceeded to Akita to wait for a group from Niigata (Photo above: Pilgrimage to Bethlehem and Jerusalem).

22 May was rainy day but the group from Niigata arrived in good spirit. The group was joined by another Rosary group from Niigata and we had a joint Mass in the afternoon.

Following morning was a fine day and we could manage to organise the Stations of the Cross in a beautiful garden of the convent of Seitai Hoshi Kai.

The Marian Shrine itself is very important for Niigata Diocese as spiritual foundation but also the convent of Seitai Hoshi Kai is and has been providing wonderful environment of prayer and meditation for us. Of course, members of the institute are praying for the diocese every day. Though diocese of Niigata is a small diocese with only 7,000 Catholics, we have to maximise our efforts for evangelisation in this area with more than 4.5 million people. For this we need spiritual support. Seitai Hoshi Kai provides good facilities for our spiritual renewal and we should utilise them. Also we have another good facility in south. Myoko Church facilities provides us also a good environment to pray and meditate. Both places are precious gifts for our spiritual enrichment in the diocese. Also we should not forget Sisters in the diocese, especially the Poor Clares in Takada and Seitai Hoshi Kai who have been supporting our diocesan activities through their continuous prayers.

Oh, I happen to visit both places, Seitai Hoshi Kai and Myoko in coming Sundays. 1st June, there will be Nagaoka District Laity Assembly in Myoko and 8 June is the Akita District Laity Assembly in Seitai Hoshi Kai.