Jan 30, 2011
Niigata area has been suffering from heavy snow since Christmas and we had yet another heavy snow last night. Of course, total snowfall in Niigata city area is nothing compare with one in mountain area such as Tokamachi, but it has been quite enough for the city which does not have so much snow usually. Despite heavy snow fall and severe cold weather, quite number of parishioners made effort to join the Sunday Mass in Aoyama Catholic Church in which 7 ladies received the sacrament of confirmation. Since 5 out of 7 were from youth group, high school students and college students, number of their friends from neighbouring parishes also join the celebration. (photo above: preparation by Fr. Raul, the parish priest, before Mass)
Gospel today was the famous "Sermon on the Mount" from Matthew. Jesus began with a declaration of "Blessed are those" and draw attention of people who had wanted to know how to be blessed people. However, Jesus did not taught them how to become blessed but rather he declared "Blessed are the poor in spirit". As if to explain the meaning of the "Poor in Spirit", today's Mass offered us the first Corinthians as the second reading. Through the second reading, we get to know that what we could be proud of is not what we have but rather the source of what we have which is the source of our life, God. So we would be blessed if we are able to surrender ourselves completely to God.
Jan 21, 2011
Though Catholic Church and Christian Churches of other denominations all over the world always pray for unity among Christians, a special week of prayer has been observed annually from 18 to 25 January. For this year's octave, Christian council and Catholic Church chose the Acts of Apostles chapter 2, verses 42 to 47 as the theme for the prayer service which is "One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer". Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) and the National Christian Council in Japan (NCC) have been working together to prepare a booklet every year for the prayer service and encourage their respective members to organise joint prayer services during the octave.
As for Niigata city area, since late Bishop Ito and late Bishop Sato, both my predecessor of Niigata diocese, were the chairman of the Ecumenism Commission of the CBCJ, a week long joint services for Christian Unity was one of the regular events for Christian Churches in the city. Until recently, daily evening prayer service during the octave had been organised by the council of Christian teachers of Niigata city and member churches, including Catholic parishes, took turn to host the prayer service. However, problem had arisen that majority of members, both Catholics and other denominations, grew old and were not able to venture out into cold winter evening. So it was decided by the teachers' council to reduce numbers of the prayer service to 4 times during the week and shift the timing to 10am.
Today was the turn for the Aoyama Catholic Church to host the prayer service of this year and around 35 people joined the prayer for Christian Unity led by the parish priest, Fr. Raul (photo above). Fr. Raul invited the participants, including 5 ministers from other denominations, to put more trust in the power of Jesus who broke down the wall and make his followers one. He also pointed out that "when we see someone fighting on the street, then we do not want to get involved in the trouble. So if Christians are fighting each other, then who wants to come to join us?".
There will be a main prayer service on Sunday, 23 at 2 pm in Niigata Catholic Cathedral which will be led by Fr. Otaki, the diocesan chancellor. You are most welcome to join us. Then at 10am on 25, Tuesday, final day of this year's octave will be observed in the Higashinaka-dori Christian Church.
Jan 9, 2011
Okinawa was the destination for a study tour for Bishops in last December organised by the committee for the Social Issues of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ). All together 7 Bishops, including myself, joined a 3-day study tour which was meant to be a beginning of the Bishops' response to a message delivered by Bishop Oshikawa of Okinawa. During the Catholic Justice and Peace National Convention in Sapporo last year, Bishop Oshikawa sent a message appealing the participants to consider the heavy burdens of people in Okinawa who had been hosting foreign military bases in this small island for over 60 years and asked bishops to take action not in Okinawa but in Tokyo where Japanese government is located in order to bring a cry of Okinawa into the midst of the reality of daily life of majority in Japan. So the bishops decided to go to Okinawa first to know the reality of military bases and history of Okinawa.
We visited several war memorial sites including 2 caves which had been used as a make-shift military hospital and a shelter for civilians. While we were in one of these caves, a guide asked us to put our torch lights off and stay in complete darkness so that we might be able to consider terrible situation of suffering of people during the war in Okinawa. Of course, there were no sounds of shootings and bombings nor scream of injured and dying. Though my experience of shootings in a refugee's camp in Zaire in 95 is nothing to compare with the experience of people in Okinawa, the complete darkness and wet air made me to feel somehow frightfulness of people at that time.
We also visited several US military bases, including Kadena, Futenma and Camp Schwab, though we could only observe them from outside. The photo above is from the Henoko Beach where the Camp Schwab is located. Japanese government had made an agreement with the US to remove the Futenma base and bring it to the Camp Schwab. Futenma is in the midst of Ginowan city and too dangerous for the marine helicopters to fly over the densely populated city area. However, the idea to bring the function of Futenma to Camp Schwab is also causing controversy because this beautiful tropical sea of Henoko beach will be destroyed by proposed new airstrips. Number of local people in the area has been conducting a sit-in protest to the proposal for more than 2,400 days.
Though I do not want to be too idealistic on the issue of national security, however, as a religious, I should always emphasize the importance of protecting human life which is a gift from God. I do understand the importance of having sufficient forces for national self defense. However I do not know whether the reality of Okinawa is meant for the sufficient national defense in Japan. I think it is too much and majority of us, those in the main land Japan, has been too insensitive to people of Okinawa for many years.
Jan 1, 2011
Happy New Year!
May the year 2011 be filled with blessings from the Father of all creation, the source of our life, and your heart be filled with His love.
Though it was a rough evening yesterday with strong wind and chilly rain, more than 30 people joined with me to celebrate a midnight Mass for the World Day of Peace. Holy Father chose "RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE" as theme of this year's message for Peace. As Holy Father reminds us of the situation of Christians in countries where the religious freedom is not guaranteed or restricted, and in countries where hatred against Christians have been escalating such as in Iraq, let us remember our brothers and sisters in difficult situations in our prayer for Peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, more than a year has passed since I had been appointed as the apostolic administrator of Sapporo diocese while I have been serving as a bishop of Niigata. I would like to ask your prayer as ever for myself and for the appointment of a new bishop of Sapporo.