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

Jan 1, 2016

Happy New Year !

Happy New Year. May God bless you all throughout the year 2016.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Catholic Diocese of Niigata, Japan

Dec 28, 2015

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Homily of the midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at Niigata Cathedral.

My dear brothers and sisters,
Merry Christmas.

Year after year, We gather together in this Cathedral in the evening of 24 December to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Yes, we also gather again during the daytime on 25th to celebrate the Christmas, however, the most important moment for the celebration of Christmas is in this evening celebration. We all know that nowadays majority of people in Japan celebrates Christmas even among non-Christians in the evening on 24th and that is really fitting for the celebration even though they do not realize the real meaning of it. Let me explain it.

As we see from the Gospel reading this evening, the birth of Jesus took place during the night. It said that "there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock" However, repeating what is written in the Gospel is not the reason of what I am talking about.

The Gospel continues as follows; "the angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them." So it was light. It was bright light shinning in the darkness. It was the bright light which struck shepherds with great fear.

In the first reading, prophet Isiah wrote "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone"

Who are these "people who walk in darkness" or "who dwell in the land of gloom"?

Few months after the massive earthquake and tsunami which hit Tohoku in 2011, I visited the disaster hit area. Toward evening, as there were no electricity in the area, darkness prevailed. There were no house lights nor street lights. Only darkness prevailed. While standing in the midst of this darkness, I started feel uneasiness, anxiety or even fear. I was sure that darkness produced negative energy for those evacuated in the shelters, negative energy which easily destroy people's hope for the future. Negative effects of darkness were what I felt physically that night.

What kind of reality are we living in today? Fear for terrorism. No one knows what will happen next and where that might take place. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail in this world today. In Japan, we are not able to expect bright future with economic development anymore. The reality of fewer kids and aging society makes us wonder about our future. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. On an global scale, climate change has been affecting so many people severely especially in so-called under-developed countries but also us in the so-called developed countries and no one knows clear future of our common house, the earth. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. We are, therefore, the "people who walk in darkness", aren't we? We are, therefore, the people "who dwell in the land of gloom", aren't we? Many of us are increasingly dominated by uneasiness, anxiety and fear caused by inability to see clear future because we are in deep darkness.

Some months after the first visit to the disaster hit area, I again made another visit to the same town for Caritas meeting. We met in a former hotel building which survived the tsunami and had been used as Caritas Volunteer center. As we finished the meeting, I got out of the building only to be amazed by the sight. The building was a shining tower in the midst of deep darkness. Electricity was provided by a generator in the building and the town did not have electricity yet.

If it were in ordinary town, the light of this tinny hotel was nothing more than one of many lights in the town. Or even, no one would have noticed that there were lights in this building. Just a part of ordinary scenery of the town in the night. However, because of prevailing deep darkness, such ordinary and small light was shining through like the beacon of bright hope, defeating all the uneasiness, anxiety and fear of the people. The small light of the building became the source of hope for many.

Jesus was born as small baby. Hope for whole humankind was just a small light in darkness. That is the reason why the Church celebrate Christmas in darkness in the night. That is the reason why we, just before we started the Mass, had small candle for each one of us in the darkness of this chapel so that we may feel brightness of such a small candle lights. Even small lights can shine through to brighten people's heart in deep darkness. What we need is this small light of hope in all our hearts to overcome darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear.

We are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy now. People living in darkness with uneasiness, anxiety and fear are tend to live in mutual distrust. How can people trust each other while they are not sure about tomorrow's fate? I feel that the mutual distrust may results judgmental tendency among us. Good or bad? Friend or foe? Yes or No? As we are pressed to make judgment in order to be relieved from anxiety and fear, we tend to jump to conclusion. That is the reason why we tend to be judgmental and easily label others that they are good or bad. Generosity, tolerance and joy have no space to survive in such a society. Mercy is forgotten.

We find, these days, in internet and TV shows the heartwarming stories quite often. Why do we love to know these heartwarming stories? Why people love to watch such TV shows? Because, in reality, heartwarming experiences are missing. In the judgmental society, generosity, tolerance and joy disappear and we are hungry for story of love and mercy. Today's world needs mercy of God much more than before to escape from captivity of darkness.

For all of us living in the darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear, light has been given. The light is Jesus, the new born baby, who is mercy of God, who is love of God. Mercy and love of God is what we need to light our small candle, candle which brings generosity, tolerance and joy to the world.  


Dec 14, 2015

Opening of the Door of Mercy at the Niigata Cathedral

The extraordinary jubilee year of Mercy has started on 8 December and will conclude on 20 November, 2016. In Niigata Cathedral, beginning of the Jubilee Year was celebrated with Holy Eucharist with number of priests and faithful attended at 11 am on 8 December. Before the Jubilee was announced, diocese had planned a day of Advent recollection for priests on 7 December. Since number of priests who are usually scattered around the diocese were gathering together for the recollection, we decided to organize opening Mass on 8 Dec. so that faithful might feel unity of the Church by being with several priests and bishop for this special occasion. 18 Priests and more than 60 people joined the Mass.

Then on 13 December, Sunday, Mass for opening of the Door of Mercy was celebrated at the Cathedral with more than 120 people. (Photos) I presided the Mass joined by Fr.Ngaji, SVD, assistant parish priest and Fr.Itagaki from Sendai diocese who was with us as a retreat preacher for the parish advent recollection.

We started the Mass from the Parish Hall and made procession to the main gate of the Cathedral which is designated as the Door of Mercy. There are all together 4 Door of Mercy in the diocese, namely Cathedral, Takada parish, Yamagata parish and Akita parish. You are invited during this jubilee year to make a pilgrimage to one of these Door of Mercy in the diocese, enter to the church through the door, go to confession, attend the Mass, receive communion and pray for the intention of Holy Father with special prayer of the jubilee composed by Holy Father himself in order to receive indulgence.

Mercy is needed in today's world more than before where people are living in darkness created by mistrust among each other. Darkness prevails particularly at the time when world security has been challenged by terror or threat of terrorism which, in many cases, produce invisible accumulation of fear. When we don't trust each other then we begin to judge each other. What a judgemental society we are living today. At home in Japan, we have to look around ourselves. Are we not talking about military threat from our neighboring countries as everyday talk? In the country where the phrase "War on Terror" has become so familiar with daily life,such as so in Japan today, it is quite difficult to talk with reason that the retaliation with force only promotes vicious circle of violence. People overtaken by fear have no ear to listen to such admonition. Feeling of mistrust and intolerance prevails in darkness today.

Meanwhile we have to think about what is the main force pushing this country, Japan, to maneuver through global village in modern days. Economy gain? Military ambition? Where is our moral principle? Country which has so-called Peace Constitution should have the leading voice with moral principle to persuade people to come out from darkness of mistrust to create real peace in this world.

But what is the reality? Are we not choosing the way to go deeper into darkness? We need to feel Mercy of God. We need to feel that God unconditionally encompass all of us, no exception, with his Mercy because he loves all of us. Church is, through this jubilee year, trying to be a beacon of hope shinning in this darkness to invite people to be filled by God's Mercy and love. Here in the Church, everyone should find consolation and joy of forgiveness so that we may be able to console each other and share our joy to escape from the darkness of mistrust. "As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.(Misericordiae Vultus 9)"

Holy Father also invites all of us to be witness of Mercy of God as he wrote; "the Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.(Misericordiae Vultus 12)"

So throughout the Jubilee year, we have to try to be witness of Mercy of God through our own words and deeds and also action of our parishes and groups. Then what can we do in this diocese? This is quite a challenge for all of us in this diocese where no particular crisis are happening as such. If we are directly involved in natural disasters or war or refugee crisis or starvation or draught, etc, it would be clear for all of us that what action we should take. But these are, fortunately, not in our case. Then we have to seriously think how we could be witness of Mercy of God or "an oasis of mercy" in this situation? Perhaps, we should better broaden our perspective a bit more. Holy Father wrote as follows; "in this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! (Miseridordiae Vultus 15)" Yes, the today's world is waiting for our action.

Nov 20, 2015

Have courage to stop vicious circle of violence !

It is so sad to witness again and again such brutal ends of so many innocent lives such as what happened in Paris recently. As we, Catholics, believe that human life is the most precious gift from God, we do not agree with any justification on the cause of such violent attacks over human life.

As Holy Father said, "there is no religious or human justification for it. This is not human" Well, retaliation by violence against violence may produce a kind of solution. However this solution would be only for short term or temporary.  Of course, in order to execute huge violence such as the recent Paris terrorist attacks, financial resources, organisational structure and man-power are indispensable. Therefore as long as retaliation by force could minimise such resources, then violence attacks might be ceased. But that would be a kind of supportive measures and could not touch the real cause of violence. Real cause of such brutal violence exists in our hearts, in our emotions. Armed power cannot control emotional hatred rooted deep in our hearts.

I hope this sad incident in Paris would not increase our hatred against specific group of people, or not make general public to vow to retaliate with violence, but to make people realise that taking away human life in any case with any reason is against will of our God , creator of all who granted us with this precious gift of human life.

During the Justice and Peace National Convention in Tokyo in September, I had an opportunity to share my thoughts on Peace together with Bishop Katsuya of Sapporo who is in charge of the commission for Justice and Peace.  During the talk, I mentioned that the Integral Human Development is the key for establishing real Peace, and thus Caritas activities is, in fact, action for Peace. Of course I mean Peace in a meaning specified in the VatII's Gaudium st Spes as follows.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice" (78)
(Photo below: During the national convention of Justice and Peace in Tokyo Cathedral in September. From right to left, Bp.Katsuya, Bp.Matsuura and myself)

In order to realise the "order structured into human society by its divine Founder", Pope John XXIII pointed out that number of basic human rights have to be respected and realised in the society. (Pacem in Terris) And that is the base of my point that integral human development is the must for real peace. Meaning of integral human development here is not restricted to common meaning or usage in development as such. Pope John Paul II once wrote in the Centesimus Annus" 29 as follows.

"Development must not be understood solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human. It is not only a question of raising all peoples to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united labour, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God's call."

I hope we have courage to face reality to stop these vicious circle of violence not by violent retaliation but by real process of creating Peace through integral human development. Unfortunately recent political initiatives by ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan for shifting the national security policy from passive defence to more active defense, which the prime minister named as proactive contiribution for peace, may not actually contribute to stop these vicous circle of violence.

Aug 9, 2015

Memorial day service in Hiroshima, 6 August

Almost all the Japanese Catholic Bishops and all the Japanese Anglican Bishops prayed together on the eve of the day of bombing of Hiroshima at the Catholic Cathedral of Hiroshima. It was the first time for both Catholic and Anglican bishops organised such prayer service to pray for the World Peace, Peace without nuclear weapons. Around 5 pm on 5 August, all the Bishops joined group of laity of both congregations, mainly youths, in front of the memorial tower in the Peace park. From there, all marched to the Catholic Cathedral for 40 minutes singing Japanese Christian song, "Amen, Hallelujah"

At 7 pm, ecumenical prayer service started with all the Bishops together with representatives from the World Council of Churches led by its vice moderator, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of Methodist Church. Also present with us were 3 Tibetan Buddhist monks who, during the service, prayed for Peace with words by Dalai Lama XIV, "Words of Truth". Peace message was delivered by Bishop Swenson. Bishop Oscar Cantu, the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of United States Bishops, and Bishop Mario Iceta, Bishop of Bilbao, Spain also joined the prayer together with Archbishop Chennoth, Apostolic Nuncio. The Cathedral was full of people to pray for peace and it was quite significant occasion to see people from different denominations were united in just one cause, to establish real peace in this world.

Next morning Requiem Mass was said by Catholic Bishops presided by Archbishop Maeda of Osaka, previous bishop of Hiroshima till last year. (At this moment the see of Hiroshima is vacant.) Mass began at 8:15 am on 6 August, exact time of bombing, with ringing of bells of the Cathedral to join other bells of temples in the city.

70 years has passed since humanity saw such a great scale of man-made catastrophe Only with one single bomb, a city with four hundred thousand people was destroyed and more than ninety thousand lives vanished at once. Because of radiation related diseases more than one hundred and forty thousand people died before the end of that year.

No one actually knows why the US government decided to use two atomic bombs over Japan at the end of the WWII. Yes, it is widely believed that these two bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki expedited Japanese government to decide to surrender so that many lives of soldiers were saved. Maybe so. It is also said that as Japan was already losing most of its military capability at that moment in August, 1945, and its surrender was just a matter of time, two bombs were used to establish military superiority over Soviet Union in consideration of the new world order after the WWII.

I have no idea why they were used at that moment but what I know is so many lives were taken away so violently and inhumanly and so many people are still in agony, both physically and psychologically, and so many sad stories of each individuals, not only in Japan but also in other countries, were created. Justice was done? I do not know and I am not at the position to judge the history. I say the same as St.Pope John Paul II said in Hiroshima in 1981, "War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death."

What we learned from our recent experience during March 11, 2011 disaster in Tohoku is that human wisdom has clear limitations. Through our experiences of the disaster of earthquake and Tsunami, including aftermath of the accidents of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant for which uncertainty still prevails after more than 4 years, we found out that we had been made to believe with false sense of confidence in our own human abilities and human wisdom. We thought science is almost almighty to solve any problem in this world. It was just a dream.

Also many of us found out we had lost sense of transcendent or sense of God who is far bigger than human being. This would be the result of terrible secularization in Japanese society. We thought that human being are able to control everything in this world with our technology and in such situation, God was no more needed.

"Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall (Proverb 16:18)." This disaster has been giving us warning that each one of us have to be humble enough to examine our life style and change our attitude from self pride to humility and obedience in front of power of God. And more over, we should know that we have limitations and science is not almighty.

I believe that nuclear technology, for both military and peaceful use, is still not under control of human knowledge. As for military purpose, no one knows what will happen if all the existing nuclear arms were really put in use. No one knows because it is almost impossible to imagine the end of human existence. But knowing the capability of extinction of ourselves by nuclear arms, those who have them plenty can not take initiative to abolish them because of fear against the other side. And still some others are trying to possess them in the name of preventive measures and self defense. Alas, what Pope St.John XXIIII wrote in the "Pacem in Terris" in 1963 are not taken seriously yet. Can't we stop these? Can't we stop thinking about existence of own countries alone but to make paradigm shift to think globally? We can not maintain our lives without support from others.. As in the Book of Genesis, 2:18, the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We are created to be a helper for others so without supporting each other, we lose our very reason to exist.

As for peaceful use of nuclear energy, it is complicated matter. You might think what has been happening in Japan and Fukushima in particular is quite peculiar to the earthquake prone country. I do agree that nuclear energy is clean energy and might be useful to contribute to fight against environmental degradation. But at least this technology produces nuclear waste and human knowledge at this moment has no solution to manage them other than keeping them safe, probably under ground, for quite long period of time. We are surely leaving these nuclear waste for next several generations hoping that they may find better solution. I think this has a bit of unethical implication, at least for my faith.

Are we, human race in early 21 century, really ready to responsibly utilize nuclear energy or are we trying to close our eyes not to see our limitation?