Jun 23, 2015

On the new Encyclical of Pope Francis

Holy Father, Pope Francis, has issued his new Encyclical "Laudato Si" on 18 June. The new encyclical is on the theme of Ecology and Climate change. Especially the issue of climate change has been quite controversial and even before the publication of the Encyclical, we could hear number of voices critical against Holy Father to take popular stance which is pointing out human activities as the cause of global warming and climate change mostly because the counter measures may cause stagnation in economy and changing comfortable lifestyle of many countries, especially developed countries. However, Holy Father was clear enough to write as follows.

"Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes." (23)

We are called seriously examine our life style. We are called to seriously examine our relationship with each other and nature. We are called seriously examine our relationship with our creator, God. And we are called seriously examine our responsibilities for future generation.

Following is my comment on the Encyclical published by the Asianews a few days ago.

As for Caritas Internationalis, which recently completed its 20th General Assembly in Rome with the theme "One Human Family, Caring for Creation", environmental concern and climate change are one of main issues included within its action plan for next 4 years. Also Caritas Asia, for which I have been elected as a president for second term, has been seriously working for environmental concern through our sustainable agriculture program with number of member organizations in Asia taking into account climate change issue which have been causing serious problems over many farmers' living and working conditions in Asia. We do not have to travel a long distance in Asia to see the reality of environmental degradation caused by climate change through repeated major scale natural disasters in recent days.

Therefore, I am happy to receive this encyclical of Pope Francis which gives us solid foundation for our activities in this field and convincing teachings for Catholics to commit oneself to do something for ecology.  As Pope Francis repeatedly remind us that the charitable activities are not an option in our faith but rather a part and parcel of it, in a similar way Pope reminds us in this encyclical that all the faithful have obligation to do something for mother nature. It is made clear to all of us through the encyclical that taking good care of entire creation is part and parcel of our vocation. Also Holy Father reminds us to consider the consequence of our life style to future generation. So it is not enough to provide temporal remedy to the present crisis to rescue people affected by climate change and environmental degradation but also we have to always consider long term solution for future generations which may require us to change present comfoatble life style.

I am also happy because the encyclical has been written from the view point of so-called developing countries. Modern society has been controlled by less than 20% of population in so-called developed countries and policies to guide the international society often reflect the interest of this few group of people who has financial resources. However, as Holy Father knows the reality of people's life in Latin America, he stands with poor and marginalized and writes this encyclical from there. That is why there are several points in the encyclical which are hard for people living in comfortable conditions in developed countries to accept such as changing present life style and recognize that developed countries are owing much to developing countries as the former has exploited natural resources of the latter for years. So through the encyclical it is clear now to say that it is not because of generosity of rich countries to assist development of poorer countries but it is because rich countries are obliged to do so.

Catholic Bishops of Japan has just completed its annual general assembly in Tokyo. On the last day of the assembly, 18 June, Bishops organized a study session on the issue of nuclear power generation with number of experts and theologians as lecturers. Though direct mention against nuclear power generation is not found in the encyclical, at least its careful and wise use and also consideration to the local environment with involvement of local people for planning are found in several sections.

As it is well known, after the 11 March 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japanese Catholic Bishops are advocating immediate abolition of more than 50 nuclear power generating plants in Japan which are prone to earthquakes. Of course we do receive quite a criticism over our position from general public and even from some Catholics saying that to maintain present life style and economy of Japan, the nuclear power generations can not be abolished.  That is exact the point in our message in November 2011 against nuclear power generation. We are not just calling for abolishment of the plants but also, at the end of the message, we are calling people to change our life style to reduce use of energy. Holy Father also mentions necessity to change life style of modern society which requires excessive use of energy and call for put more resources to develop renewable energy sources. I think Japanese Catholic Bishops have to be advocate of development of renewable energy sources in Japan and also call the government, business circle and general public to be responsible for future generation and also act responsible for the common good not only consider future of Japan alone but consider entire creation.

Jun 20, 2015

Confirmation Mass@ Noshiro and Tsuchizaki in Akita

There were two pastoral visits with confirmation in Akita district recently. One in Noshiro Catholic Church on 7 June and the other in Tsuchizaki Catholic Church on 14 June.

Both churches are quite far away from Niigata. It took me more than 5 hours to reach Noshiro by my car and also another 5 hours to reach Tsuchizaki. Noshiro is more than 300 km north from Niigata and could be considered as the northern end of my diocese.

A few years ago when I visited Noshiro, then parish priest was happy to welcome me saying that there were many people in the Church for Sunday Mass because of my visit. Then as people were singing entrance hymn, I found only 10 people there. Surprised I asked the parish priest why he had said "many". Then he told me that he usually had only 4 or 5 people for Sunday Mass.  That is the reality of missionaries life in northern part of my diocese.

Today, the parish priest of Noshiro is Fr. Felix Lobo, SVD from India. As we started Mass on 7 June, the feast of Corpus Christi, there were more than 18 people including small kid whose crying voice was sounded like a hope for blight future of the Church community. And we had the sacrament of confirmation during the Mass. A mother of that kid received the sacrament.  After the Mass, everyone sat down at the table to enjoy lunch box together. Though the number of the community is very few, singing during the Mass was quite strong and full of joy.

Then on 14 June, I again visited Akita to go to Tsuchizaki. Tsuchizaki is the second parish in the City of Akita. Akita parish is the biggest community with more than 700 in my diocese. Tsuchizaki might have more than 100 members and we had 6 people received the sacrament of confirmation during the Mass.

Parish priest is Fr.Kotaro Iino, SVD. We went to the SVD minor seminary in Nagoya together more than 40 years ago.

Singing by the choir with special costume of Samurai after the Mass during the lunch at parish hall was quite unique but good.

Meantime on 13 June, Bishop Goro Matsuura, an auxiliary of Osaka has been installed as a Bishop of Nagoya. Kindly pray for Bishop Matsuura and also for retired Bishop of Nagoya, Bishop Junichi Nomura. (I could not join the installation Mass at Nunoike Catholic Church, the cathedral of Nagoya on 13 June as I had to give a talk to PTA of an catholic elementary school in Kyoto)

Peace message of Japanese Catholic Bishops on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Pacific.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has issued a message for peace during its general assembly in February. The message was meant for 70th anniversary of the end of WW II in Pacific which we are to commemorate on 15 August this year. The government of Mr. Abe is also expected to issue their message of peace.

You may find the English translation of the Catholic Bishops message on this link.

The message of Japanese Bishops are, in fact, cry to the general public in Japan not to abandon our highly respected ideal for Peace which is prescribed in the post WWII constitution.

It is a reality that Japan could maintain its peaceful existence without any involvement in actual fighting for 70 years because of existence of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. And it is well known that establishing the own Japanese made constitution has been the top priority in the political agenda of the Liberal Democratic Party which has been in power for many years, except for only a few years period, after the war. They
refer present constitution as something imposed by the occupation force.

For quite sometime, considerable percentage of Japanese public began to feel that the Japan is not really matured country as the constitution prohibits exercise of military power so that in order to become "normal country" Japan has to change its constitution to allow exercise of military force with other countries in solving international conflicts, though it should be contained in the notion of "self defense" and not the aggressive military maneuver.

Now I believe that those who want to commit Japan into actual war would be very minimum among general public. I believe Mr. Abe might be thinking himself as realistic politician who just want to make Japan as "normal country" with "normal" military power and I do not think he wants to draw Japan into actual war as such.

However, unfortunately, he may lack imagination for future of the country, I think. He will not be in power for ages to come. One day, probably in 2 to 3 years time, he will step down and someone else would be in power. There is no guarantee that LDP will continue to be in power forever. Then the system has to have clear cut identity which does not allow any biased interpretation. Vague terminology which allows any interpretation should not be used.

For example, Mr. Abe's security policy is the "Proactive Contribution to Peace". He guarantees that this does not mean military advancement at all. May be true. But who knows in future? As we all know, present constitution has been interpreted in several times which favors government's policy at the time to allow the self defense force to
grow stronger,  Now they can be deployed out side Japan, but only for peace keeping operation under UN. But because of clear cut ideal of no use of military force to solve international conflicts in the article 9 of the constitution, Japan was able not to be involved in the actual fighting. So article 9 was considered something as protecting wall of peace by us and, probably, stumbling block by realists.

We just want Japanese public to remind ourselves that Japan should be an evangelist of peace in this world. We should not abandon this ideal.

At the same time, we also want to disseminate Church definition of Peace. We are not only talking about peace as "No War" as such but we are talking about "Peace in this world, which is required for the respect and development of human life, is not simply the absence of war or a balance of power between adversaries. It is “the tranquility of order”  (Saint Augustine), “the work of justice” (Isaiah 32:17) and the effect of charity. Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ" (Catechism compendium 481). Our peace message is quite in political language but what we are talking about is a bit different from what general public and politicians are talking about. We use same term "peace" but, I believe, definition of that term is quite different and that is not understood by general public yet. That is why we receive quite strong criticism from "realistic" mind political people.

Apr 27, 2015

From Lent to Easter, 2015 (part two)

On 19 March, all the 16 Japanese bishops assembled in Rome for the Ad Limina visit. Last visit was in December, 2007 and Holy Father at that time was Benedict XVI. Though it is not the first time to meet Pope Francis as we met him in Korea for Asia Youth Day in last August, it was the first time to take time to sit together to share our concern on pastoral activities in Japan.

Yes, we all had chance to share our concern with Holy Father. This was my second Ad Limina visit. Last time, we had private audience with Holy Father for 15 minutes but for this time we all sat together with Holy Father for more than an hour only with translator. Among 16 Japanese Bishops, half of us are able to handle Italian and rest not. Unfortunately I belong to the latter and Holy Father used only Italian during the meeting. Well as we had good Japanese priest who has been stationed in Rome for several years as a representative of Japanese Bishops who did marvelous job of translation for us.

At the beginning of the meeting, each one of us were given chance to greet Holy Father individually and to take photo with him. (These two photos with Holy Father were taken by an official photographer and should not be reproduced.) I could manage to hand over a DVD on the relief activities of Catholic Church in Tohoku Area after the 11 March, 2011 disaster and also a prayer card from Our Lady of Akita Diocesan Shrine.

As usual, an official speech of Holy Father was prepared but he did not read it at all. Our president, Archbishop Okada of Tokyo also prepared his speech but he was also not given a chance to read it. Instead of exchange of formal greetings, Holy Father started with several questions on missionary activities and pastoral care in Japan. Holy Father's points which he raised vary from Family issue, marriage issue, environmental protection, educational ministry, vocation promotion, pastoral care for migrants to social action of the Church. What I remember clearly was his emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity on pastoral issues of local Church. He encouraged us by telling that we should not just wait for an order from the top in Rome, but as local pastors who know the local reality well bishops should have courage to make decisions and plans for their own diocese. He also mentioned the issue of liturgical translation and showed his understanding to pay respect to the decisions of local bishops conferences.  You may find in this link my interview by Asianews of PIME missionaries on the meeting with Holy Father. It was a wonderful and exiting moment to have time of sharing with Holy Father and I really think Pope Francis is a man with real pastoral mind and concern for people in need.

Other activities of Ad Limina from 19 to 27 are too many to mention here and each Bishops had different places to visit during the stay, I mean Roma Curia. However, at least for several places all the Bishops went together, such as Mass at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul, Propaganda Fide (Japanese Catholic Church is under the Propaganda Fide), Congregation for liturgy, Congregation for Saints and Secratriat of State. About Holy Father's pastoral visit to Japan? Well, we did not hear any concrete response. We will continue to invite him. Japanese government is also seriously trying to invite Holy Father to visit Japan. On the last day, we were invited by Japanese ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Nagasaki for a dinner and discussed about our common strategy to invite Holy Father.

Then we came back to Japan a day before Passion Sunday. Now Holy Week began.

From Lent to Easter, 2015 (part one)

Breaking a spell of silence for a while, for more than a month, I am feeling obliged to continue to my chronicle of events in my diocese and also in Catholic Church in Japan. I was too busy to do both Japanese and English blogs throughout month of March as I was overwhelmed by my busy schedule.

On 14 and 15 March, I went to Shizuoka Catholic Church for two-day Lenten Recollection for parishioners of the Shizuoka area organised jointly by Caritas Japan and the parish.

In fact it was immediately after the Caritas Asia Regional Conference in Bangkok on 11 and 12 March in which I was re-elected as the President of Caritas Asia. Then I rushed back to Niigata on 13 March to preside over the evening prayer service with the Eucharistic Adoration at our Cathedral in Niigata for which Holy Father invited all the Cathedral in the world to organise such day of prayer of the Lent. Then following morning, I travelled to Shizuoka.

The parish of Shizuoka has peculiar parishioners, as far as I am concerned, my mother and a family of my younger brother. My mother is still strong at the age of 84 but could not join the recollection, maybe it would make her miserable to listen to her own son preaching.

The recollection was the continuation of Caritas campaign against hunger and, as I did so in Osaka a few weeks ago, I spoke about the reality of poverty and hunger in the world and what we could do to eradicate hunger by 2025. As Holy Father once mentioned in his message to the Caritas campaign, there are enough food to feed all people on the Earth. However, we are wasting one third of total produce for quite selfish reasons.

Then on 16 March in the evening, I was in Nagasaki, one thousand kilometer south west of Shizuoka, to join the celebration of 150th anniversary of discovery of the Hidden Christians. There might be no need to repeat the famous story of discovery of Japanese catholics at Ohura Catholic Church on 17 March, 1865 after 250 years of persecution period. At that time missionaries and priests were arrested and executed with Japanese Christians. The very last remaining priest was executed in 1644. No priest was left behind in Japan and several attempts to send Missionaries to sneak into Japan all failed.

On 17 March, several Mass were celebrated in Ohura Catholic Church, itself is the National Treasure of Japan, and 10 am Mass was designated as the official commemoration Mass celebrated by all Japanese Bishops with Papal delegate, Cardinal Quevedo.

I was interviewed by Asianews, the international Catholic news site by PIME missionaries, and you may find the article on this link of the site of PIME Asianews.

Mar 13, 2015

Some of the Lenten activities

On 22 February in Niigata Cathedral, the rite of election for the Catechumen was celebrated for the first  Sunday of Lent and I presided over the Mass.  Five Catechumen were received as the elect during the rite to be recognised officially as candidate of baptism during coming Easter celebration. Three Catechumen are from Niigata and one each from Aoyama and Niitsu in Niigata city.

In fact, it was the first time in our Cathedral to celebrate the rite with Catechumen from other parishes together. It will be beautiful and meaningful if we could manage to call all catechumen in the diocese to gather together for the rite of election on the first Sunday of Lent and pronounce by their Bishop as official candidates for the baptism, geographical distance and bad weather usually hampers people to join. For example, those from Akita have to take 3 and half hours ride of train to Niigata with only 3 services a day. So we started from those parishes near the Cathedral this year.

Yes, only five catechumen for the rite were small number but physical presence of these Catechumen from other parishes remind the Cathedral community and Catechumen themselves that we all are part of one large community, the diocese, which, in turn, a part of universal Church which is one body of Christ. I hope to continue this practice and develop it further.

On 21 February, Saturday, I was in Osaka to preach one day recollection organised by Caritas Japan. It was held as a part of the world wide anti-hunger campaign of Caritas Internationalis. Caritas Japan started to organise Lenten recollection in different part of Japan since last year.

I spoke about the reality of poverty and hunger and what we can do to eradicate hunger by 2025. As Holy Father once mentioned in his message to the campaign, there are enough food to feed all people on the erath. However, we are wasting one third of total produce for quite selfish reasons.

Thank God, more than 120 people attended the Osaka recollection held at the Sacra Familia in Umeda.

Feb 2, 2015

World day of prayer, reflection and action against the trafficking of human beings

So-called "Islamic State" has killed two Japanese hostages, Mr. Haruna Yukawa and Mr. Kenji Goto. What a sad and brutal conclusion for this hostage-taking incident! We should remember these two Japanese in our prayer and also the Jordanian pilot whose safety is unknown. May God of all consolation grant peace and solace to the family of all these victims of terrorist attack.

Though the IS people claim they are people of the Muslim faith and acting under their teachings, their act of killing innocent people for their own causes could not be accepted as action of religious people. We, people living in any faith, should pay due respect to human life which is precious gift from One God. I have great difficulty to accept any claim of justification of such brutal act in the name of God as plausible explanation of action in front of God the creator of all.

In his message on the World day of Peace 2015, Holy Father chose the theme "NO LONGER SLAVES, BUT BROTHERS AND SISTERS" and called us to realise this brutal crime of human trafficking in today's world. Human trafficking sounds like something happening far away from Japan but, in fact, the term "Human Trafficking" includes so many things which are happening around us today including the hostage-taking by terrorist groups. In the message, Holy Father wrote as follows:
I think of the many men and women labourers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights.I think also of the living conditions of many migrants who, in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse. In a particular way, I think of those among them who, upon arriving at their destination after a gruelling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane conditions. I think of those among them, who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely. My thoughts also turn to those who, in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living and working conditions, especially in those cases where the laws of a nation create or permit a structural dependency of migrant workers on their employers, as, for example, when the legality of their residency is made dependent on their labour contract. Yes, I am thinking of “slave labour”.
I think also of persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves. I think of women forced into marriage, those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.
Nor can I fail to think of all those persons, minors and adults alike, who are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics, or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption.
Finally, I think of all those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups, subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves. Many of these disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed.
As one of the activities of the Year of Consecrated Life, it has been announced that coming Sunday, 8th February has been designated as the "World day of prayer, reflection and action against the trafficking of human beings" based on this message of Holy Father. The day, 8th February is the memorial of St.Josephine Bakhita who was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Schio (Vicenza)  in 1947. She was a slave and trafficked but later she became a member of the Canossian Sisters.
There are so many in today's world who are deprived of freedom and taken hostage of modern slavery. There are so many who are kidnapped by terrorist groups or, even sometimes by the state. Let us remember all these people, not only our own country men but also all the people who are suffering of human trafficking, especially vulnerable women and children, in our prayer on Sunday 8th February.