Jan 19, 2015

Remembering my "comrade"


Former volunteer Catechist of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson, Ghana, Mr. Joseph Kwesi Dumas has passed away a few days ago at the age of 74. He was one of more than 40 volunteer Catechists helping Parish pastoral activities while I was a priest-in-charge and later a parish priest of Osonson from 1987 to 1994. During my stint of pastoral care of Osonson for 7 years, I was alone without any other priests during the initial 5years to take care of more than 20 out-stations and it was not easy for me, just ordained in Japan in 1986 and sent to Ghana immediately after the ordination with only 8 months of local language study, even to find out what I had to do as a priest. (Photo above. Mr. Jopseph Kwesi Dumas in 2006 when I visited Osonson)

Osonson itself had around 200 Sunday Mass participants but I also had 2 out-stations with more than 300 Mass participants each. I could celebrate Sunday Mass only in these 3 communities. If you know the Mass in this part of Ghana, it takes more than 2 to 3 hours to reach the recessional procession. Then what about other 18 or more communities?

This was the reason why we had so many volunteer Catechists in Osonson. They were the one to conduct Sunday services in other out-stations. Priest could visit only during weekdays for Mass. At that time, there were no English translation for the Old Testament so that they had to translate the readings from English to the local language, Krobo. Many of these volunteer Catechists were school teachers as they knew English.

But that was not their only duty. While villages are far apart and road conditions were not so suitable for car access, it was not possible for me alone to visit all sick people or attend the emergency call. So it were also important duties of Catechists to visit sick and to pray for dead.

Above all, the most important duties of these Catechists were to teach catechism. Every year, I could baptise more than 100 to 200 people in these out-stations and it was impossible for me to teach catechism to all these 100 to 200 people scattered around in villages. So teaching catechism and prepare catechumens for baptism were the most important duty of Catechists.

In fact, I could do nothing without these Catechists. I owe them a lot.

Diocese, at that time, provided salary for one catechist in each parish so that I had one full time catechist who went around with me. Yes I owe him a lot and I could not do much without the full-time catechist. But I owe more than that to all these volunteer Catechists who sacrificed their precious time for pastoral care of people without any payment.Without these dedicated volunteer catechists, missionaries from other countries could not do much in these challenging situations.


Among all these volunteer Catechists, as late Mr. Dumas was living in the Osnosn itself, I have a lot of memories of working together with him. Since Mr.Dumas had so beautiful handwriting which I do not have, I always asked him to make an entry of baptismal register and to issue baptismal cards. But his really special talent was to visit sick people. I do not know how much time he spent during a day to visit sick people. Sometimes he made me to carry sick to a hospital which was more than 2 hours away by a car and he waited patiently with the sick for hours while I went around a town for shopping.  Wonderful man with generous heart. I miss you, Mr. Dumas. My God grant you eternal peace. (Photo above. Mr Dumas visiting a sick in Osonson in 1993)

One of his sons is a Divine Word Missionary priest, Fr. Martin Dumas, now working in Japan province of the SVD.  

Jan 12, 2015

Universality of the Church and the reality of the society

Soon after the beginning of the New Year, still many are in festive mood, no one expected such brutal incident to happen, such bloody and merciless terrorist attacks in France. Our condolence and prayer for those victims of horrible attacks and also our prayers for quick recovery of those who are injured. I hope the local people and local communities would be able to overcome sorrow and shocks as soon as possible.

Needless to say that such terrorism against the freedom of the press has to be condemned and unjustifiable. Moreover, it is impossible to justify in front of the Creator of human life such violent deprivation of one's life without any effort to dialogue. It is very sad to experience such horrible incidents which drag people into darkness of fear at the very beginning of the new year.

At the same time, as we are saddened by this incidents in France, we cannot and should not forget tens and thousands of people who lost their lives in such terrible situation of terrorism in all over the world. As this incident happened in Paris, media coverage on every act of terrorist was so much and plentiful. But there are much more incidents happening day by day in Holy Land, Middle East, Ukraine, Africa, Asia and elsewhere on this planet which deprive innocent people from maintain their precious lives. And, worse, those who take human lives violently always try to justify their causes.

As we face such reality, I am resolved that we have to continue to express our desire to establish Peace on this planet even though, for many, talking about establishing perfect peace is just regarded as a dream. Human life has to be protected from its very beginning to the end with total respect and due dignity.


On 8 January in Niigata Nippo News Paper, the above article in a photo was published. It is about one of our members in the diocese, Ms. Julia Abe who hailed from Philippines and now married with Japanese in Kamo city in Niigata Prefecture. She is quite famous among locals as cheerful English teacher and a charitable person. The article also present her cheerfulness and several activities to raise fund for victims of natural disasters.

There is no need to repeat again but we have a lot of Catholics among us in the diocese who hailed from other countries such as Philippines. As I have been emphasising that I do believe that these people are sent by God to Japan as missionaries of Gospel message. God provides missionaries in a way we are not able to imagine of.  So many Filipino Catholics including Ms Julia are in our local communities where we do not have parishes to reside, to have family and through their daily cheerful lives to be living witnesses of the Gospel.

Moreover, their very existence among our parish communities make us feel in reality the Universality of the Church. Church exist within the limit of national boundaries but the Church is not limited by such artificial walls which separate people. It is written in the "Lumen Gentium" of the Vat. II as follows.
"It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members"
The Church exist within the limitation defined by national boundaries or local cultures as "Church of so and so country or area" but that limitation does not divide the Church as such. Rather it exists as "one people of God" which goes beyond the artificial boundaries. That is our universality.

So the Universality of the Church does not simply mean that we have many nationalities in our community. That is just "internationality". But we should have feeling that despite difference in nationality of culture or language, we are united in one body and we are realising this one body in this real world. That is our feeling of universality of the Church. This is the reason why I put emphasis that those Catholics from other countries should not be treated as mere "guests" but they are one with us working together to create one body which go far beyond the national boundaries.

What about the reality of this society nowadays. I feel that we are talking about difference of nationality of ethnicity too much. I feel that we are worried about preserving our own cultural identity too much. I feel that in order to glorify our past history we are creating hatred against our neighbors too much. And these are not only our problem in Japan but also in many other parts of the world including East Asian countries. Even today we see violent action to exclude "others" in many parts of the world including our country. Where is our sympathy to others? Where is our tolerance to others especially to weak and oppressed? Where is our sense of justice and equality to minorities of the society? We have to speak up against this reality of the world which separate and divide people that what we know from the sense of universality of the Church is really needed to change the world.

Happy New Year!


Belated greetings of the new year but better late than never.
So I wish you all Happy New Year! May God bless you all through out this new year, 2015.



Thank you for your prayer and support during the year 2014. Niigata diocese received so much assistance from other diocese in Japan, particularly from Tokyo and Yokohama, in construction of our new Chancery office and Bishop's residence which completed on 10 May, 2014. There are so many reasons to thank everyone of your support for our pastoral activities in Niigata. I ask you to continue to pray for us so that despite challenging social environment, such as bad economy, low employment rate, aging society with very low birth rate, growing nationalism and gradual declination of tolerance to others among general public, we would be able to continue to be steadfast witnesses of the Gospel. (Photo above: Christmas midnight Mass in Niigata Cathedral)


Also I would like to ask you to continue to remember people in Tohoku area who have been struggling hard to re-establish their normal life as before the March11 2011 disaster. Still many are not able to return to their original communities and Fukushima Nuclear power plant area is still in confusion.(Photo above: Closed entrance to the town of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture. Welcome Arch or Gate over the road reads "Nuclear Power is the energy of bright future", but because of the nuclear power plant accident, residents are not allowed to enter this area as of today.)

May God bless you all in this Year 2015.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata
President, Caritas Asia

P.S. I have issued the New Year Pastoral Letter, but it is in Japanese. You may find it in this link.

Dec 24, 2014

Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 3

5: Former Caritas Japan program officer turned to be a nun.


On 8 October in Sendai, Ms.Sawako Inae, former program officer of Caritas Japan, professed her first religious vows as a member of the Charity Sisters of Ottawa after two years of novitiate. I presided over the Solemn Eucharist in Higashi Sendai Catholic Church as her former Boss.

Sr.Sawako used to work for UNDP before she joined Caritas Japan. She was one of the most efficient program officers we had in Caritas Japan. On 15 March, 2011, a few days after the massive earthquake and tsunami in Sendai diocese, I traveled to Sendai with others of Caritas Japan including Sr.Sawako to assess the situation and discuss rescue and rehabilitation plan with local bishop. From that day, Sr.Sawako together with Fr. Daisuke Narui, SVD, who was a secretary of Caritas Japan Committee to remain in Sendai to organise the center of emergency response of Catholic Church which later called the Sendai Support Center. Sr. Sawako was charged to visit local communities of the disaster hit area to find real need of people so that Caritas Japan might be able to execute effective emergency support program. She did marvelous work.

While she was in Sendai, she stayed in a convent of Charity Sisters of Ottawa without any intention to become a religious. Then one day, probably after a year of her stay in Sendai, she contacted me to tell me that she wanted to be a religious. That was one of the biggest surprise in my life. Such an active lady in development field and disaster relief field. Such a strong lady who could withstand any harsh environment in other countries. God has his own plan for us.


To proclaim good news is our unavoidable duty as Christian. And Japanese Catholic Church has been facing challenges in our way of evangelisation through our experiences in the relief activities in Tohoku area.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" as follows.
"The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.(25)"
Those Catholics who are working in the relief activities as volunteers or Caritas staffs translate these three concepts of nature of the Church into reality everyday.  To work among people hit by disaster is indeed witness of gospel value in words and deeds. Every evening at the end of daily activities in Caritas Volunteer bases, everyone, including non-Catholic volunteers, come together to have silent period and sharing. That is in fact experience of liturgy and prayer. Above all, entire activities are act of charity based on our faith. In fact, the deepest nature of the Church exists in the midst of relief activities of Caritas in the Tohoku area. Immersing deep into these realities, I am sure, Sr.Sawako had deep experience of conversion in her faith and decided to dedicate herself entirely to God. God really has his own plan for us.

 

Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 2

3: Laity formation program on the Evangelii Gaudium


I had several chances during this autumn season to share my thoughts on the Evangelii Gaudium in which Pope Francis clearly shows his vision on the Church's direction. Especially in Niigata district, study sessions for laity were organised on 18 and 25 October in the parish hall of the Cathedral. More than 60 people joined the session.


It would be quite a challenge to Catholics living in Japan to follow the directives of Pope Francis that Church should go forth to peripheries, to the poor and marginalised. Also how we should understand his call that Church should be poor for the Poor as we live in relatively rich country and majority are, in fact, not poor as such. We should not limit this call of Holy Father just to take care of physically poor people but should look around the reality of this society to find marginalised or forgotten people. There are, for example, forgotten people in Tohoku area especially in Fukushima. Already almost 4 years have passed since the 11 March disaster. We know that people there are still struggling to re-establish their normal lives but unable to do so. While we know that we are also busy with other concerns and began to forget about "their" concern. People are marginalised and forgotten. Because of financial strain of the government, the social welfare system has been going through bumpy reform and budget cuts. Yes, elderly people are marginalised and forgotten. Because of increase of population in middle and low income group and the gap between rich and poor are widening, traditional family system are falling apart. Both parents are busy for their works and kids are left behind and forgotten, though it is not the intention of parents as such. There are so many forgotten and marginalised in Japanese society for which Church alone can not find proper solution. Therefore, it is important for all our laity to know the direction given by Holy Father so that each one of us could be source of action in different parts of the society.

We might have similar program next autumn in Niigata district. For next one, I may talk about the "Ad Gentes"

4: Golden Jubilee of foudation of SEISHIN Girls High School in Niigata

On 31 October, SEISHIN (pure heart) Girls High School celebrated its golden jubilee of foundation in Niigata. It was established by Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur 50 years ago on the request of late Bishop Ito, the first Bishop of Niigata as a sole Catholic High School in Niigata prefecture. Still today, it is only one Catholic High School in this part of my diocese and, more over, a sole school exclusively for girls in private school sector in Niigata.


Unfortunately the Sisters decided to pull out from the administration of the school a few years ago and transferred it to a local business people who are not Catholics. Fortunately the new administration body decided to maintain the school as a catholic one and invited me and other Catholic laity to join the board so I decided to designate it as Catholic School. 

We need Catholic educational institution in Japan where Catholic population is absolute minority. In Niigata diocese, we have only seven thousand Catholics among more than four million people. How can we reach non-Catholic population without these educational institutions including kindergartens? So it is one of the priority of my diocese to consider how to maintain Catholic identity of this school which is under administration of almost non-Catholic board members.

At least, the Golden Jubilee celebration began with Holy Eucharist presided over by myself.   

Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 1

It has been quite long since I posted last article in October. Yes, I have been quite busy and writing in English is not easy. So following are some major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese with some photos.


1: 90th anniversary of foundation of St. Mary Kindergarten in Tsuruoka city in Yamagata prefecture on 11 October.


Catholic community was established by French missionaries (MEP) more than 100 years ago in Tsuruoka and the present Church building was built in 1903. By the way, this Church building has been designated as the National Important Cultural Properties in 1979. Then 90 years ago, the kindergarten was established by SVD missionaries who took over the pastoral care of the area from French missionaries. It has been entrusted to the Missionaries of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary from late 50's till last year, but at this moment SVD priests, Fr. Ban, has been in charge. (Fr.Ban Hachiro, above photo center left)

2: Golden Jubilee of Fr. Peter Osamu TAKAYABU.


Fr.Takayabu, now 76 years old, is a diocesan priest of Niigata and ordained a priest on 20 March 1964. He is one of the pioneers of the diocesan priests. Fr. Takayabu served for many years as the Diocesan Chancellor and also represented the diocese for many national commissions in the bishops conference. Fr.Takayabu suffered a mild stroke 10 years ago but still active in pastoral care of people as he knows well that there are only 15 diocesan priests in Niigata. Now he resides in Takada Catholic Church as one of cooperative priests. On 13 October, we celebrated his Golden Jubilee in Takada catholic Church. Congratulations, Fr.Takayabu!


Takada Catholic Church is under the pastoral care of Franciscans (OFM) at this moment. Photo below is taken on 26 October, after the golden jubilee celebration, in Takada Catholic Church. It was a Mass for Confirmation. Though the diocese is small, Takada Catholic Church celebrates the Sacrament of Confirmation every year.



Oct 23, 2014

Recent pastoral visits in Niigata

Pastoral visit of Shirone Catholic Church on 28 September. Father Yamagashira, in the photo, is in charge of both Kameda and Shirone Catholic Churches in Niigata city. Therefore Sunday Mass in Shirone is said at 1:30 pm. And this is the community of Shirone. In the photo below, white building is a part for Church and orange building at right hand side is for Kindergarten. Because of my visitation, an organist from other parish came to play music for Mass.



Pastoral visit of Sado Catholic Church on 5 October. Sado is an island and 2 hand half hour ferry ride to reach from Niigata city. Church building is more than 100 years old built by French missionaries. Again community here is also so small and aging. There were two Masses on 5 October. 9:30am for the original parish community and 11 am for Filipino community in the island. Parish priest is Fr.Kawasaki and Fr.Lorenzo, the migrant chaplain for the diocese was visiting the Filipino community on that Sunday.




 Though an aging society with fewer number of children is the current trend in Japanese society as a whole, this problem is much more acute in rural areas such as our diocese. Quite a number of farmers have been facing difficulties to find spouses from the native Japanese community. Therefore, it has become commonplace to see foreign-born wives in farming villages in the diocese. The majority of these wives are from the Philippines and, thus, it has become a pressing necessity to find a suitable way to extend pastoral care to this new type of immigrants to our diocese. In October 2010, we could manage to dedicate a church for one of these migrant communities in the city of Shinjo in Yamagata prefecture. But we may see many more migrant Catholics in all over the diocese.
 
An aging society with fewer children and drastic shift of youth population to major cities means the collapse of the present local communities. Recent report from one of the governmental think tanks on population change in Japan said by the year 2040, decreasing population may force more than 890 communities to close them down. Especially, according to the report, in Akita and Yamagata, 80% of their communities will perish by year 2040. This trend of decrease of population will definitely affect Catholic communities in the diocese.
 
As we have more than 30 parish communities in 3 prefecture which have been suffering from population decrease, the Diocese will definitely face severe challenge to maintain present number of Catholics. What are we going to do?
 
According to the government statistics in 2013, the Shinto group claims 3,713,187 followers in the Niigata diocese. At the same time, Buddhist sects claim that they have 2,257,855 members.  However, these numbers cannot be accurate since the sum of members of Shintoism and Buddhism far exceeds the total population of the Niigata diocese which is 4,488,904 in three prefectures. 
 
As a matter of fact, most of the population does not feel that they personally belong to these traditional religions, since both are seen as a matter of custom, with Shinto considered the backbone of Japanese culture and traditions and Buddhism considered as the religion of family tradition. Particularly regarding the Buddhism, people feel compelled by custom to maintain their Family altar (Butsu-dan) which houses plates indicating deceased ancestors. Also, the first-born son has an obligation to maintain the family grave. So the majority of the population considers their practice of Buddhism as limited to funerals and to rituals connected with ancestor worship. However, especially in rural areas, people feel a much stronger connection to both the Buddhist temple and the Shinto Shrine in their area as the uniting factor for their family and the local community respectively.
 
Unfortunately, past 20 years, Japanese public became quite suspicious over religious activities based on several sad incidents caused by new religious movements in Japan such as AUM Shinrikyo's mass murder case in Tokyo in 1995.  Also effects of secularization are quite evident especially among youth.  Traditional rural communities are quite conservative against any new initiatives and very cautious in accepting any changes in life style brought from outside world.  This is very much so in my diocese since majority of local communities in 3 prefectures are rural farming villages.  Because of the not-welcoming atmosphere towards to outsiders of this area, most of our parishes are located in rather developed towns or cities where people are much more open to new initiatives.  Unfortunately we do not have any strong holds in rural area. 
 
Traditional methods to penetrate into rural area such as through social welfare activities or through development programs does not work here since these concerns have been well taken care of by local governments for many years.  Farmers have been a strong supporter of present national government run by LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) for past 60 yeas because the government has subsidized rural communities abundantly for many years.  We still can not find a suitable way to go into the reality of rural communities.
 
Having said this, however, I still believe in the power of dialogue. It actually does not mean that we should engage ourselves in real talking with people but it is rather showing ourselves in the local communities doing something different and good or attractive. Such as our Caritas volunteer activities in Sendai diocese after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2014.
 
Dialogue with people does not necessary mean actual conversation as such. How we create relationship with local people. Through our charitable activities, we could be witness of love of God. And through our attitude to be with local people in need, we could be witness of mercy of God and that would be our new evangelization in Japan today.