As you know well, as several days have passed since the announcement, Holy Father decided to step down from the chair of St. Peter at 8 pm (Rome time) on 28 February, 2013. The see of Bishop of Rome will be vacant and a new election to choose a new successor of St. Peter by 117 cardinals, the conclave, will be summoned by middle of March.
There is no Cardinals from Japan at this moment. The last one was Cardinal Shirayanagi of Tokyo who died in 2009. In 2005, when Pope Benedict XVI was elected, there were 2 Japanese Cardinals in the conclave, Cardinal Shirayanagi and Cardinal Hamao. Speaking about Cardinals, there is only one Cardinal from East Asia to participate the coming conclave. Cardinal John Tong of Hong Kong is still under 80 years old and is eligible to vote.
I met Holy Father on 19 January in his palace during a private audience for participants of the Plenary Assembly of Pontifical Council Cor Unum. I have been appointed as a member of this Pontifical Council recently and was my first time to participate its assembly. At the end of the audience, which usually goes like; a greeting message by the one in charge of the group, Holy Father's response, Apostolic Blessing and photo taking; members of the council were allowed to greet Holy Father personally. It must be one of the difficult tasks for Holy Father to meet so many strangers every day and greet them with a word or two. But when Cardinal Sarah, the president of Cor Unum, introduced me as a bishop from Japan, Holy Father smiled and said a few words on victims of the earthquake and tsunami. In fact, this was my third audience with Holy Father after the March 11 disaster in Japan and every time when he realised that I was from Japan, then his face started to shine with a few words of prayer for victims. I am so grateful to Holy Father for his continuous concern for people in the disaster hit area in Japan.
At the same time, I could see and feel his physical weakness during the audience. It seems that Holy Father definitely need assistance to walk and could not sit straight on a chair. His voice was so weak and frail. But I could see that his mind is clear as ever. I am sure, as the very person to support Blessed John Paul II until his death, Holy Father knows very well the impact of physical difficulties of the Pastor of the Church over its decision making body. So his decision to step down tells us that the Church is facing several major challenges at this moment and the Church needs vigorous new pastor to tackle these challenges.
I am grateful to Holy Father especially as member of Caritas Internationalis and Cor Unum that he has set clear guidelines for charitable activities of Catholic Church and also put emphasis in necessity for believers to put more effort in charity. Especially in his first encyclical "Deus Caritas Est", Holy Father made it clear that the charitable activities is one of essential elements of the Church with these words;
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. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.(Deus Caritas Est, 25)
I hope and pray that almighty Father may grant good health and long life to Holy Father, Benedict XVI. Voices of gratitude from all over the world for his living witness of discipleship as pastor and servant of people of God is a proof that he is a great leader of the Church.
Let us also pray for guidance of Holy Spirit so that the coming conclave will choose yet another wonderful and capable pastor for all of us.