Apr 19, 2012

Catholic Volunteers gathered in Okinawa

The Japan Catholic Volunteer Association has organised its 11th National Assembly in Asato Catholic Church in Okinawa on 14 and 15 April and more than 70 people took part.  I also joined the event as a bishop in charge of the association which I inherited from Bishop Matsuura during their last assembly in Niigata, my diocese, 3 years ago.  The theme of the assembly was "aspiring to be a volunteer acting global" and, as the event took place in Okinawa, they also had chance to learn about history and reality of Okinawa which hosts 74% of US military bases in Japan. 

On the first day, Ms. Takasato, a former city council member of Naha city, was invited to give us a lecture on the history and the reality of Okinawa.  She spoke intensively on the issue of military bases in Okinawa and their effort to negotiate both with Japanese and US government to remove them from Okinawa.  Okinawa consists of only 0.6 % of entire territory of Japan, yet it hosts, as I have mentioned, 74 % of US military bases in all over Japan.  Both governments always talk about security issues and international relationships as reasons to maintain bases in Okinawa, however it should be considered as a matter of survival of local people or achieve peaceful lives of people in Okinawa, she mentioned.  Then after the talk, we went to visit both Futenma base and Kadena base.  Of course, we are not able to go inside the base but we could see from nearby facilities and could, at least, felt danger of placing such military bases in middle of congested city center.  Ms. Takasato also told us that it is a myth to say that without US bases economy of Okinawa can not be maintained.  Then she pointed out that Shin-toshin area of Naha city, where the Asato Catholic Church is located and used to be a military housing area which was returned to Japan in 1987, is now developed as a modern town with shopping centers and offices which had been producing much more employment than before.  So local governments have their own plan of development once these bases are returned.  Well I do understand the difficulty in international security issues at this moment of the history in East Asia, however as I witnessed the reality of life of people in Okinawa, I belive that the better solution has to be sought to secure peaceful lives of local people and also to protect beautiful environment of Okinawa.  It should be treated as a matter of preserving human lives which is a precious gift from God.

After we returned from the visits, Bishop Oshikawa of Naha provided us wonderful party with local songs, dance and, of course, local drinks.

On the second day which was a second Sunday of Easter, Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated at the Asato Catholic Church with Bishop Oshikawa and emeritus bishop Ishigami in attendance.  I presided over the Mass with parishioners of Asato.  The association is grateful to the diocese of Naha which provided wonderful hospitality for the event.

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