"We, the Church, are witnesses of Mercy"
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)
My Dear Sisters and Brothers of Niigata Diocese,
I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jubilee of MercyPope Francis has decided to launch a year long Jubilee of Mercy from last December 8 to this November 20. In his official Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee, "Misericordiae Vultus” or “The Face of Mercy," he writes that "the Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person." (12) Then he continues to write that "wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident." (12) Therefore, we all are invited to join and take part in this Jubilee of Mercy.
Since his election in March, 2013, Pope Francis has been emphasizing importance of Divine Mercy saying that everyone, without any exception, is enveloped by Mercy of God. Holy Father encourages us to take concrete action saying "let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ." (Evangelii Gaudium 49) Then he writes in the Evangelii Gaudium that "Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth." (209) Based on this call, Holy Father invites all of us to pay attention to "the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others." (210)
As we know, Holy Father invited each parishes to accept at least one family of refugees as Syrian refugee crisis deepened last year and he himself took concrete action of accepting a family in Vatican to show that he cares.
Pope Francis invites all of us to be witnesses of Gospel message which is mercy and forgiveness saying that "mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy." (Bull, 10)
What kind of reality are we living in nowadays? We easily make judgements over words and deeds of others and criticism or accusations are commonly heard of. We have lost tolerance in our relationships and overwhelmed by distrustfulness. Don't you think that we find number of "heart warming stories" in TV shows or Internet sites? It must be that exit of tolerance from the real world forced us to look for it in somewhere as our instinct commands that we need it. If there is no tolerance in our society, then there would be no respect for human dignity. It is because selfish judgements would be given priority. Pope Francis often talk about realization of the society in which no one is excluded. "Globalization of indifference" is the term Holy Father uses to warn all of us to change our selfish minds. This warning is not only for individual level but also for relationships among nations.
In this Jubilee year, I would invite all of you to be witnesses of mercy and forgiveness of God in the midst of our society. Let us try to be witnesses of love and forgiveness of God through our words and deeds. And let us try to form our parish communities to be the place where people or any visitors could feel mercy and forgiveness.
As it has been announced, I have designated following 4 churches as the Jubilee Church with Holy Door of Mercy, namely, Niigata Cathedral, Takada, Yamagata and Akita. Also a year-long relay of prayers throughout the diocese has already started from Niigata Cathedral community. Holy Father is calling us to make this coming Lenten season special and spend it with much more attention while inviting us to organize and celebrate the “24 Hours for the Lord” on March 4-5, prior to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. While taking into consideration of local situations, I would like to ask each parishes to organize special events such as confession services or Eucharistic adoration.
On 14 February, the First Sunday of Lent, I will preside over the rite of election for the Catechumens in the Cathedral. The rite is meant for all catechumens in the diocese who are to be baptized this coming Easter, however because of distance, I am inviting catechumens from nearby parishes alone. Presence of Catechumens from other parishes remind the Cathedral community and Catechumens themselves that we are all part of one large community, the diocese, which, in turn, a part of universal Church which is one body of Christ.
On 14 and 15 September, there will be the Marian Day of Akita in Seitai Hoshikai in connection with the Jubilee of Mercy. While praying with Holy Mother, it will be special time to meditate Mercy of God through Mary, Mother of God. I invite you to join the day with me.
Introducing Chaplaincy to our Catholic Institutions in the DioceseAs is the case with other dioceses in Japan, there are number of Catholic Institutions in Niigata diocese. What I mean by the Catholic Institutions is that kindergartens, nursery, high-schools, junior colleges, child welfare facilities, home for aged and other social welfare facilities which claim "Catholic" as their identity. In days past, these Catholic Institutions were headed by religious or priests. There were number of religious or priests involved in as their workers, too. In recent years, however, as Japanese society itself is heading into the aged society with few kids, Catholic Church in Japan has been suffering from decline of vocation with very few young priests and religious. That is the reason why, in our diocese, we have number of Catholic Institutions without any priests or religious as their head or, even, there are number of them without any priests or religious involved. I am sure this trend would continue for sometime. For example in Niigata prefecture, if I want to keep priests as the head of Catholic kindergartens, then I have to appoint a priest to more than one kindergarten as their head. And we are already facing limit of these double appointments of priests and have to appoint lay teachers as their heads.
In the light of this situation, the most important issue is how to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions. Therefore, in order to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions, I have decided to ask all these institutions to introduce the Chaplaincy system. If there are priests or religious being appointed as their head already, then they could be appointed as their chaplain. If their heads were not priests nor religious, then I have asked them to make a contract with priests or religious of their choices as their chaplain. Of course, one priest could work for several institutions as chaplain. These chaplains appointed outside from the institutions should not be involved in the administration but should be adviser on religious matters or conducting religious activities.
I hope through introduction of this chaplaincy, our Catholic institutions may be able to maintain their Catholic identity and deepen it further. The system will be introduced from 1st April.
Vocation for priests and religiousFirst and most, I would like to thank all of you in the diocese for your continuous prayer for priests and religious vocation. We did not have any seminarians for the diocese since Father Sakamoto had been ordained in 2009. However, by God's grace, Mr. Shuta Oka from Hyogo prefecture has decided to be a priest for the diocese and will begin his formation in the National Seminary from April. Mr. Oka has been a temporary professed member of Benedictine order till last spring in the monastery at Fujimi, Nagano. It may take at least 6 years to complete the formation program so that kindly remember Mr. Oka in your prayer and also kindly continue to pray for the vocation.
To conclude this pastoral letter, I just want to mention number of points. First of all, about the rehabilitation activities in Tohoku area after 5 years of the disaster. Reconstruction and rehabilitation activities are progressing, though very slowly, but it may take more time to complete. Catholic Church in Japan has been mobilizing entire resources of our communities to support the area through Sendai diocese with assistance from Caritas Japan and will continue to do so till 2021, ten years after the disaster. As we will enter the sixth year of our support activities soon, let us reconsider what we can and should do as their neighboring diocese and let us put the idea into action. As time passes, we should not forget the people in the disaster hit area and resolve again to walk with them.
Then there will be the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, this summer. It will be held from 23 July to 3 or 5 August and the official pilgrimage group from Japan will be organized. I have appointed Fr. Katsuo Matsumoto, SVD of Akita as one of accompanying priests to the group. Youth living in Japan, regardless of their nationalities, aged from 18 to 35 are eligible to join the group. Application is open till the end of April. Any youth to join the group? It will cost around 300 thousand Yen to join the pilgrimage, though, there would be possibilities to send someone from our parishes if the community is willing to support him or her financially.
Finally, I make my pastoral visit for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts in even year and for Akita and Yamagata districts in odd year. Therefore, in 2016, I will make pastoral visits for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts. Usually I leave it to parish priests to propose date of such pastoral visits so that the date will not conflict with either parish schedules or my schedule.
May God bless you all in Niigata Diocese. May God of mercy and love guide you and protect you through out this new year, 2016.
1st January, 2016
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata