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. 

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.