May 6, 2013
I have been to Sendai for a week to preach a retreat for the Charity Sisters of Ottawa in Japan. I left Niigata immediately after the Niigata diocesan pastoral council on 29 April and just returned from Sendai this afternoon. The retreat was the annual one for sisters and 15 of them, from Yamagata, Yokohama and Sendai communities, joined a full 7-day retreat. This morning during 7am Mass, sisters renewed their religious Vows and were sent out to their respective apostolates.
I am not given a talent to be a spiritual director so that I can not give comprehensive spiritual direction through the retreat as such. What I did was to give talks for 12 times, that is 2 talks a day, said daily Mass and preached, and met with each individual sisters to listen to their stories. Mu talks are all based on my own experiences as a missionary priest in Ghana, Caritas volunteer in Rwanda refugees camp and Caritas director in various countries. Because of these experiences, especially with Caritas Japan, I have given rich experiences of encounter with so many people in many countries.
You may find a familiar face among Sisters. Ms. Sawako Inae who used be a program officer of Caritas Japan is now a novice in this congregation. After the March 11 disaster in Japan, Sawako was sent to work in Sendai Diocese Support Center to coordinate relief efforts of Caritas and other players. She stayed with Charity Sisters while she was in Sendai and was fascinated with the lives of religious community. That is why she is now with them. Kindly remember her, Sawako Inae, in your prayer so that she can follow the call of Jesus faithfully.
On 14 April, Sunday, I made a pastoral visit of the Catholic community in city of Sakata in northern part of Yamagata prefecture. It is around 4 hours drive from my house in Niigata. Pastoral care of entire Yamagata prefecture has been entrusted to Picpus Fathers (SS.CC.) and there are 6 Catholic communities in the area with 3 Fathers of SS.CC. There is one priest residing in Yamagata parish and taking care of Yonezawa parish, and Shinjo station. Then there are 2 priests residing in Tsuruoka parish and taking care of Nagai station and Sakata station. I am calling them as "station" because they do not have resident priest, however, following Japanese standard some of these stations, such as Shinjo and Sakata, could be Parishes in its own right.
Sakata used be a port city for a rich merchant of this area, Honma family, who used be called the biggest landlord of Japan for 200 years till the end of the WWII. Strong traditional culture and religion make Catholics quite difficult to bring Gospel message in this area so that the Catholic community in Sakata is quite small compare with parishes in other Christian countries.
For my pastoral visit, around 20 Catholics attended Sunday Mass at 10am. The number was much more than ordinary Sunday. After the Mass, I gave a talk on the Year of Faith and New Evangelisation. Then we shared lunch, sung songs together.
Apr 28, 2013
The Sendai Diocese Support Meeting was held in Iwaki city on 26 April, Friday, from 9:30 am to 3 pm. This meeting was the 20th gathering of this group since the massive disaster in Tohoku on 11 March, 2011. Iwaki city is in Fukushima Prefecture and around 40 to 50 km south of Fukushima No1 Nuclear Power Station which is still under critical condition after the Tsunami disaster. Within Iwaki city, there are 13 groups of temporary housings for evacuees. Some of them are housed in private apartments which had been hired by local governments. According to the government's statistics, more than three hundred and then thousand people are still unable to return to their original area in entire disaster hit area in Tohoku. Most of the disaster hit area is in Sendai diocese.
The meeting was chaired by Bishop Hiraga of Sendai and attended by 17 plus participants including 5 Bishops. This monthly meeting is to coordinate relief efforts of Catholic Church in Japan within Sendai Diocese. Three ecclesiastical provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki had established their volunteer bases and have been sending team of volunteers to support people. These provinces were represented by Bishop Koda, Bishop Suwa and Bishop Hamaguchi respectively. I represented Bishops' Conference relief team with Fr. Kanda and Mr Hamaguchi, both from Osaka and Fr. Narui, SVD who had been a director of Sendai Support Center and the director of Caritas Japan till the end of March. Though Fr. Narui has been appointed as JPIC coordinator for entire SVD (Divine Word Missionaries) congregation, he may help us as a member of my team as far as his time permits.
At the beginning of this meeting, two people from Okuma town shared their stories after the disaster. Okuma town is where four of 6 power plants of Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Station are located and, as it is now, 96% of the area is closed for civilians to enter. These two mothers of young kids from Okuma town had to evacuate from their homes after the accident of nuclear power plants and unable to return since then.
Apr 9, 2013
Apr 1, 2013
I hope you had wonderful and blessed celebrations during this Holy Week with your own communities. As for myself, it was a blessed week of being with so many people to pray, meditate and celebrate.
From Thursday till Sunday, I was in Niigata and celebrated Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Mass. Fr.Ngaji, SVD, the assistant parish priest of the Cathedral took the Good Friday liturgy.
Mar 26, 2013
Construction work of a new Chancery Office of Niigata Diocese and a residence for its Bishop has started last week. Present office and residence building, a two-storied wooden house, was built more than 80 years ago, though the exact date of construction is unknown since the diocese at that time bought an already existing structure and made necessary addition to it.
Decision to build a new structure for the diocese was made a few years ago when the diocese had been informed by the Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart in Fujisawa that they were to close their nursery school behind the Bishop's residence by March 2011. Since then, a committee was formed both by priests and laity to discuss about the future plan of the Cathedral property. The Committee came up with idea to demolish the nursery school and also the present residence and build a new one on the ground ofthe nursery school. An existing two storied building behind the Bishop's residence which used be a minor seminary will remain and be used as a residence for retired priests of the diocese. I agreed with the proposal immediately since the Japanese government has been planning to increase sales tax from April, 2014. The sales tax in Japan also applies on construction works.
In order to demolish the closed nursery school building, a part of the Bishop's residence had to be demolished first so that heavy machines would be able to reach the nursery school area. Also the committee decided, in order not to spend too much money, and, of course as a tiny diocese with only seven thousand Catholics, the diocese does not have enough fund, to build a single story flat for both a chancery office and a residence for its bishop.
So during last two weeks, part of the present bishop's house, a dinning room and a kitchen section, was demolished. The construction company, Shibata Kensetsu, says they may be able to demolish the former nursery school by the end of April and to begin the construction work for a new building by the beginning of May. By the time they finish with the new building, then the present residence building will be demolished. The entire construction activities may finish by the end of this year.
As I mentioned, the diocese has not enough money to cover the cost of this construction. We have only 58% of the cost which is, including the cost for demolishing works and that is costing us quite a lot, USD 1.8 million. In Niigata diocese, I have made an appeal to make special collections for next several years to contribute for this project. The new building is not only a house for bishop but will include office and meeting spaces for the diocese. Your donations will be appreciated.
Mar 25, 2013
The rite to confer the ministry of lector in Sapporo Diocese was held on 20 March in Kitaichijo Parish Church which is the cathedral of Sapporo diocese. Today is a public holiday in Japan, Spring Equinox Day, and number of public functions, such as graduation ceremony for schools or ordination Mass for several dioceses, take places all over Japan.
The ministry of lector calls candidates to be servants of the Living Word of God. Their duties are not only proclaiming the readings at liturgy. They do more than simply read. They are to prepare candidates for sacraments of initiations through catechism classes and also to proclaim gospel message to people all over the world.
Mr. Paul Ken-ichi Sato, photo above with me, received the rite and given his ministry as the lector during the Mass. He entered the National Major Seminary 3 year ago and just finished his first year of Theology which is the end of his third year in the priestly formation. At this moment, the National Major Seminary has two campuses, one in Tokyo and the other in Fukuoka. The Fukuoka one serves as three-year theologate and Tokyo one houses two years of Philosophy and a year of special course for deacons. Sapporo diocese has all together 3 seminarians at this moment. There is one in Fukuoka and the other one in Tokyo. Then one has already passed the entrance exam and ready to join the formation course after this Easter. Kindly remember these seminarians and continue to pray for their vocation. Also we need your strong prayer so that there will be more youths to decide to be priests in Catholic Church in Japan.
By the way, for your information, I do not have any seminarians for my own diocese, Niigata.