Apr 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

Dear friends,

Happy Easter. Video message from Niigata, Japan for Easter.

Apr 18, 2014

Passion Sunday@Niigata Cathedral

It was a beautiful and warm spring day for this year's Passion Sunday. With this favorable weather, members of the Cathedral community could make procession from the Parish Hall to Cathedral. Mass was presided over by myself and following is the homily during the Mass.

"The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them"

Sometimes, believing might be deceiving over judgement between right and wrong. On the Passion Sunday, the liturgy stipulates two readings from the Gospel passages. One is a story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the other is a story of passion and death of Jesus.

There were crowds of people who welcomed Jesus as if he was a King of this world. And there were crowds who shouted at Jesus that he should be put to death on a cross. Between these two incidents were quite strong and strict teachings and words of Jesus in Jerusalem. Though there are huge differences in hearts between crowds welcoming Jesus and crowds shouting against Jesus, we know that these two crowds were the same people. In consequence of time, people changed their hearts.

What happened between these two completely different hearts of people? Change of hearts took place within the framework of the "heart of believing". Why did people welcome Jesus? Because they thought Jesus might be a strong leader for the people whom the one they had been waiting for. However, their expectation was not based on what Jesus had been teaching but on rumors of what Jesus had been doing. People heard about his miraculous deeds and thought that he perfectly conformed to their expectation on true and strong leadership. That means initiatives of their belief in Jesus was in people's hands and Jesus did not play any active role to let people believe in him. Why, because there were no personal contact with people and Jesus. They just believed so based on what they had heard which were not so much different from rumors. They just assumed that Jesus was their true leader while giving people's desires and expectations the highest priority.

However, real Jesus who entered Jerusalem was completely different from their sweet expectations. He expelled business people from Temple, or argued with Teachers of Law over authority, condemned rich people and criticized pride of people as chosen. He was not the one to fulfil their expectation. Rather he was a dangerous destroyer of present system of the society. When they realized this, their expectation and Joy were turned into hatred and rejection. 

I have mentioned that, sometimes, believing might be deceiving over judgement between right and wrong. That believing I mentioned is the one based on self-serving expectations as these crowds welcoming Jesus as their King. It was not Jesus who had initiative to let people believe in him but was people themselves who wanted to believe in their own image of leader based on their expectations. The crowd just found a fitting character in Jesus based on their wish and desire. Such believing with selfish conditions might be deceiving over judgement between right and wrong. That is why the crowd could not hear the true voice of God in Jesus and killed him.

Passion Sunday is also the World Youth Day. On this XXIX WYD, Pope Francis issued a message. He wrote in the message as follows.

"The Beatitudes of Jesus are new and revolutionary. They present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom. A worldly way of thinking finds it scandalous that God became one of us and died on a cross! According to the logic of this world, those whom Jesus proclaimed blessed are regarded as useless, “losers." What is glorified is success at any cost, affluence, the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others"

In such a reality we are pursuing the value of Gospel. Holy Father pointed out that happiness according to Gospel message is regarded as "losers" according to the logic of this world. And "affluence, the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others" are glorified.
What we are communicating to this world as the message of Gospel are, unfortunately, not enough to satisfy worldly expectations and common sense of judgment or, worse, sometimes our messages are hated by majority in the society. Why so? Because the world reality is far from what God commanded to be realized. Gospel of Jesus Christ is not yet to be realized in present society. That is why our message of Gospel are talking about the reality which are far from what people would like to hear.

In case if we yield to the criticism from majority in the society against our Gospel value and make compromise to the demand of worldly expectations or build our faith upon these framework of human desire, then initiative of our believing is in our hands and not in God's. Such faith or believing might be deceiving over judgement between right and wrong.

Then within such reality, what shall we do? In the same message, Holy Father urges us as follows.

"I especially entrust the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture. Faced with old and new forms of poverty? Unemployment, migration and addictions of various kinds? We have the duty to be alert and thoughtful, avoiding the temptation to remain indifferent. We have to remember all those who feel unloved, who have no hope for the future and who have given up on life out of discouragement, disappointment or fear"

Challenges we are facing in today's reality are so diverse and vast especially in the country where Christians are definite minority. We feel powerless to find answers to all these challenges and take action. As we wonder what to do, prophet Isaiah encourages us with these words in today's first reading:

" The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them"

It is not myself who are to speak. It is Lord himself who give us tongue to speak to weary a word that will rouse them. As we spend sacred period within this Holy Week, let us mediate passion of our Lord, give thanks to his love of self-sacrifice for us and pray that we may be partaker of glory of his resurrection. Let us also pray that as disciples of the Lord, we may have courage to proclaim words which are given to us. Also let us pray that we have courage to work for realization of Kingdom of God and not for fulfillment of human desires and expectations.

Apr 6, 2014

20 years since the tragedy in Rwanda

Today marks 20th anniversary of beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. On 6 April, 1994, then president of Rwanda, Mr.JuvĂ©nal Habyarimana, was killed with the president of Burundi when their plane was shot down by unknown party while approaching Kigali airport.  After this assassination of two presidents, the genocide began on 7th April. More than eight hundred thousand people were killed. Some claim the number reaches one million.

It is said that the reason of killing was ethnic hatred between minority Tutsi and majority Hutu. However, it is not so simple. What we can say now is that political motivation took advantage of human emotion and instigated simple people to hate each other and kill each other. This could happen any where in a world even today. International society has to learn a lesson from the Rwanda genocide case otherwise some kind of ethnic hate killing may happen any time in any where.

I was sent to a refugee camp in Bukavu, then Zaire, in March, 1995 and stayed there for 2 months as a coordinator of Caritas Japan. That was my first encounter with Rwanda issues and also my first assignment with Caritas Japan.  (Photo above is myself in 1995 in Birava camp over looking Rwanda behind me over lake Kivu)
During my stay there, our camp was attacked by unidentified armed group and more than 30 refugees were killed. Caritas Japan team, two Sisters and two priests, were not hurt. It was a horrible experience of 2 hours of shooting which I will never forget. At the end of the shooting, the armed group bombed a storeroom of medicine in the camp clinic. I will never forget the sound and shake of that bombing. I was so shocked that I had difficulty to hold flashlight for a Japanese Sister of Caritas Japan who was a nurse attending those refugees who were shot. Blood all over.

We really have to ask why and how these ordinary people could kill their neighbours or even family members because of ethnic differences. Do we really hate and kill each other because we belong to different ethnic group. What is the difference in ethnicity to begin with? It is political agenda of certain group which took advantage of human emotion of self-identification of belongingness. Colonial government took advantage of it before independence and military dictatorship took advantage of that emotion. Radio broadcast was said to be one of the cause of instigating people to kill others. That would be true but radio broadcast alone can not motivate people to kill. Killing has long preparation behind and accumulation of several factors to increase fear among people against other ethnic group without clear reasons. Probably fear does not need clear reasoning. I guess, that is exactly what is happening in several developed countries, not in Africa, today including my home country, Japan.   

As we know, Rwanda is quite a Christian country. From the experience of Church in Rwanda we may say that we have to put more and more energy to proclaim Gospel message of love, mercy and forgiveness to people in our respected country. Because even in country like Rwanda where quite majority are Catholics, such horrible incident could not be stopped. If so, then, we really have to work hard to evangelise our culture so that such tragedy could be prevented in future.  

Mar 25, 2014

We believe now, because we ourselves have heard him.

To those who are preparing for baptism during the Easter in 2014 in Niigata Diocese:

I am sure there are number of candidates preparing for baptism during this coming Easter in the diocese. As our diocese is quite large and it is not practical or is almost impossible to gather all these candidates in the diocese for a combined rite of election at the Cathedral, I am not sure how many elects are in the diocese at this moment. Unfortunately there are no candidates for baptism in the Cathedral parish this year. In the past, around 50 to 60 adult baptism are confered in all over the diocese every year.

Last Sunday on the Third Sunday of Lent, many of you might have experienced special rite called scrutiny in your parish. Even though in case there are no candidates in parish, the entire community prayed for you. Though Baptism is quite personal matter for your life but it is also the community matter. Entire Catholic communities of Niigata Diocese are walking with you throughout your spiritual journey and supporting you by our special prayers.

On the Third Sunday of Lent this year, story of Jesus with a Samaritan Woman from Gospel of John was read. Water given by Jesus "will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life". I think those who believe in Jesus are already given this spring within one's heart. However, unfortunately, our worldly thoughts quite often cover and hide the spring so that we do not enjoy this life-giving water.

In the first reading, people of Israel complained against Moses when they found their way ahead was not what they had expected. However that complaining turned out to be challenging against God. We have to always determine whether our way ahead is the way we just wish to happen or the way prepared by God which leads us to the spring of life. Many a time, such way prepared for us by God leads us to completely opposite direction from where we wish to go according to our human wisdom or judgement. Then we complain. We may even say God does not know the reality of our life. But that is the way of God.

I would like to remind all those who are preparing for baptism, one important point from the last part of the Gospel story of a Samaritan Woman.

At the end of this story, people of the town told the woman that "we believe now, not because of what you said, but because we ourselves have heard him, and we know that he really is the Savior of the world."

One of the most important action in our faith in Jesus Christ is self-determination. Our faith is not like depending on someones decision or believing what is written in a book or following someones directives. We can not just depend on others to maintain our faith. We have to make our own decision.

Probably we might have been motivated by others to come to Church. Probably we received the very basics of our faith from others such as parish priests. However, beyond these basics of our faith, we ourselves have to struggle to find out through our own encounter with Jesus. It is precisely "not because of what you said" but we meet him and find out who he is. Our life as Christian always demand us to make choices, to decide and to move on.

Then we do not do this decision making alone in isolation. We do so in our community. Church community is the place which give us general direction towards to God. With brothers and sisters of the community walking and supporting each other, we feel confident to make our own decision. So we need community to show us general direction to God. We are not alone but we are together with members of the community who also meet same Jesus.

As Jesus promised "for where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them (Mt.18:20)" we encounter Jesus in the Church community. He is there. Without our personal encounter with Jesus, we are not able to deepen our faith. At the same time, without community in His name, we can not maintain our faith.

After baptism, unfortunately, number of members just stop coming to Church. Coming to Church is not only fulfilling Sunday obligations. It is not that you are completing requirements for entering Heaven. You have to try your best to be with your community because there you meet Jesus and you are given general direction where you should head for. Then, as I have been saying, rest is all up to you to make your own decision and act.

Mar 4, 2014

Third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is approaching

The third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, 11 March, is approaching. Past three years, Catholic Church in Japan mobilized all the Catholic communities in Japan to assist the disaster hit area which is almost all under the Sendai Diocese with a title of the "All Japan" framework. Immediately after the disaster in 2011, Bishop Tani and myself together with Caritas Japan staff members went to Sendai to meet Bishop Hiraga of Sendai diocese and his chancellor, Fr. Komatsu on 16 March in which we decided to establish the Sendai Diocese Support Center (SDSC). That was the beginning of the "All Japan" framework to assist victims in Sendai diocese. Since then, Caritas Japan has been supporting all these activities of relief and rehabilitation in Sendai diocese with long term planning thanks to huge donations from Japan and abroad.

During last general assembly of Japanese Bishops in February, as I have mentioned, Bishops decided to continue this "All Japan" framework for another three years. Catholic Church in Japan will continue our efforts of rehabilitation and Caritas Japan is also ready to support these activities.

Obviously the leading role of reconstruction of the disaster hit area ought to be the local people of the area and Church should not continue the activities just to maintain status quo of our own initiatives. We have to foresee the termination of present activities one day. However, as we know, Church has been in Sendai diocese before the disaster, and it was in Sendai during the disaster and it will be in Sendai for years to come. That means Catholic Church in Japan will never stop our efforts to be with people in the disaster hit area, though our style of commitment may change.

So many people came to join our program as volunteers. There are a lot of different ways to support the local people in the area. Probably there might be some who feel sorry as they were not able to visit the area because of various reasons. In fact, I am also the one. When disaster happened in 2011, I was in charge of two dioceses, Niigata and Sapporo, and was just elected as president of Caritas Asia at that time. Then as a president of Caritas Japan, I was put in charge of the entire operation of the "All Japan" framework. So numerable meetings prevented me to find time to visit the disaster hit area. I am feeling sorry about this. At the same time, my own experience in Caritas activities for long time, such rehabilitation program requires both people on the ground and behind the lines. I hope everyone of us in Catholic Church in Japan to find our own and unique role in this "All Japan" operation and, even though one can not go to the disaster hit area, join the effort of Catholic community in Japan with ones unique way as a part of one body of Christ.  As a Christian, one can even support the activities with prayers. Also it is imperative to be sensitive to the information from the area.

I have a coordination team for the "All Japan" framework. This team coordinates all kinds of initiatives from Catholic communities in all over Japan to assist disaster hit area and also provides platform to exchange information. The team is managed by Fr. Kanda of Osaka diocese and Mr. Hamaguchi, an employee of Osaka diocese. Without these two men who have rich experiences of disaster relief management from Kobe earthquake in 1995, I could not achieve anything. Fr.Narui, SVD, the former Caritas Japan director has joined the team since he was appointed as the SVD generalate JPIC secretary as long as he has time to spare.

Caritas Japan has issued a report of activities in Sendai disaster hit area for past one year. You may find it both in Japanese and English and may download PDF file in this link.

This is the first time for Caritas Japan to organise such disaster relief operation inside Japan itself. We did collection of relief fund for victims of disaster in the past. But what we are doing at this moment is a long term rehabilitation program. On behalf of Caritas Japan, I would like to thank all of you who donated generously to support victims through our program in Sendai diocese. We will continue our efforts.

Bishops Conference of Japan is organising a commemorative Mass of the third anniversary of the disaster at 6 pm on 10 March at Sendai Cathedral, Motodera-Koji Catholic Church. You are welcome to join us.

President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan, Archbishop Peter Okada of Tokyo has made his message public in Japanese. You may read it in Japanese in this link.

In his message, Archbishop Okada highlighted importance of principle of subsidiarity in such relief operation. Though three ecclesiastical provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki, has established their own center for activities in disaster hit area, these activities are complementing the charitable action of local Catholic community of Sendai. Therefore, these provincial centers are part and parcel of charitable activities of Sendai diocese and not acting for its own merits.

Also in his message, Archbishop reiterated the contents of the November 2011 Bishops Message on abolition of nuclear power plants saying that the general direction of Japan after three years of the Fukushima accident is shifting opposite to what Bishops called for in the message. And he put emphasis on the importance of changing life style as necessary step to abolish nuclear power plant. It is not the matter of searching alternative energy sources without changing our life style which just consumes a lot of energy. The original message says as follows.
Christians have an obligation to bear genuine witness to the Gospel especially through the ways of life expected by God; “simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice”.We should choose anew a simple and plain lifestyle based on the spirit of the Gospel, in cases like saving electricity. 

In Niigata diocese, all the parishes are asked to say commemorative Mass on Sunday 9th March. I will celebrate Mass at Niigata Cathedral at 9:30am on 9th March. You are welcome to join us in prayer. 


Mar 2, 2014

Appointments and transfers@Niigata Diocese

I have been to Akita over the weekend to attend a graduation ceremony of 170 students of Holy Spirit Girls High School in Akita. The school is run by SSpS sisters and has been considered as one of the most prominent girls only school in the area.Unlike in the case of major cities such as Tokyo, private schools are usually regarded as second choices for students. In general in rural areas, public high schools are regarded as better school than private schools. So without government subsidy, it is quite impossible to run private school in these rural area of Japan. In such a situation, though they also have their own peculiar issues to deal with, Holy Spirit High has been doing quite well. Such Catholic Schools are quite important for the Catholic Church in minority situation like Japan. These schools including our parish KGs provide us opportunity to meet people and talk about Christianity. Though we do not see many baptism from these students, graduates from Catholic schools could be called sympathizer of Christianity. Well congratulations to 170 graduates from the Holy Spirit High.

I am sure that appointments and transfers of Niigata diocese have been announced today in Parishes. Following is the list. (Photo. Top: train from Niigata to Akita. Second: Akita Catholic Church behind a frozen pond.)

Akita district
Fr.Angel Peralta, SVD:  Parish priest of Akita (from Kichijoji parish, Tokyo)
Fr.Felix Lobo, SVD: Parish priest of Noshiro (from Nishimachi parish, Nagasaki)
Fr.He Xiao-Feng, SVD: Associate pastor of Akita (Newly ordained)

Yamagata district
Fr. Hachiro Ban,SVD: Parish priest of Tsuruoka, Sakata (from Noshiro)
Fr.Martinus Pariyanto, SS.CC.: Parish priest of Yonezawa (from Hitachi, Saitama)

Transfer to other diocese
Fr.Sri Waluyo, SS.CC.
Fr.Misao Kawamata, SS.CC.
Fr.Pavol Filadelfi, SVD
Fr. Luis Fernando

Welcome to newly appointed Fathers and our appreciation and gratitude to those who are on transfer to other dioceses.

Feb 23, 2014

General Assembly of Japanese Bishops completed

Catholic Bishops of Japan has just completed their general assembly in Tokyo on 20 Feb with a Mass to commemorate the first anniversary of election of Pope Francis in the Jesuit Parish at the Sophia University, Tokyo. Archbishop Okada of Tokyo who is the president of the conference presided over the Mass while Archbishop Takami of Nagasaki delivered homily. Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Chennot delivered his message in perfect Japanese. Bishops are to meet again in Sendai on 10 March to pray for victims of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami in Sendai Cathedral at 6pm in Holy Eucharist. Apostolic Nuncio will also join the Sendai Mass. No photo of the Mass as I was also con-celebrating.

During the general assembly which started on Monday 17 Feb, Bishops decided, among others, to continue relief efforts mobilising entire communities of the Japanese Catholic Church in the disaster hit area for another 3 years. Already entire Catholic communities in Japan have been engaged to the action through the respective ecclesiastical provinces. Three Provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki have established volunteer bases in the area and have been sending volunteers while Caritas Japan has been supplying necessary materials and funds for the activities. These disaster hit area are,in fact, vast area but all under one diocese, Sendai.  So that Sendai diocese under Bishop Hiraga is in charge of entire operation in the area.

Bishops also adopted a new prayer to be used in entire Catholic Church in Japan to pray for victims and for quick recovery of the disaster hit area. At this moment, it is only in Japanese.

Japanese Bishops got unusual international attention recently because of a report sent to Rome. Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan have published a report in preparation of Synod on Family in October. You may read the contents of the report in this link in English. It is quite accurate account of Japanese Catholics in regard to their understandings of Catholic teachings on marriage and family. It seems not so many bishops' conferences have made this report public but it would be worth to know the situation in a mission territory like Japan.