Sep 30, 2009

The National Athletics Festival In Niigata

The 64th National Athletics Festival (KOKUTAI) has been taking place in Niigata prefecture from 26 September to 6 October. The KOKUTAI has been held since 1946 in rotation basis among 47 prefectures in Japan. That means this is the second time for Niigata to host the event. Last one was in 1964 and it has been remembered by many in different ways. 1964 was the year of the Olympic Games in Tokyo and because of the date of the Olympic, KOKUTAI was shifted to June instead of usual September or October. But also it is remembered because of the earth quake in Niigata immediately after the KOKUTAI. Because of the disaster, summer event of the KOKUTAI in 1964 was cancelled.

For the opening ceremony of the KOKUTAI, Emperor has visited Niigata for 3 days. Photo above is the motorcade of Emperor on their way to the Hotel Okura near the Cathedral. There were quite heavy security by Police including Imperial Guard Police from Tokyo. The motorcade took more than 10 minutes to pass by, which was completely opposite of the Presidential motorcade I witnessed several times in Ghana. They went very fast but the emperor's motorcade goes very slow so that emperor has chance to wave to gathering crowd.

Sep 29, 2009

In my native Miyako

Miyako is a port town in Iwate prefecture famous for their fishery industries and beautiful coastal line of the Sanriku-Kaigan. I was born in Miyako in 1958 and was baptisend within a few weeks in Miyako Catholic Church by a Swiss missionary of the Bethelehem Foreign Missionaries for whom my father was a Catechist. I was there till I entered a elementary school in Morioka. So Miyako is my native home town though I did not spend much time there.

In 2003, Miyako Catholic Church celebrated 50th anniversary of dedication of its chapel and that was my last time to visit the town. By then, I was a provincial superior of the SVD in Japan. I should have visited Miyako early to celebrate thanksgiving Mass immediately after my episcopal ordination since Miyako Church should be regarded as my foundation or base of my life as a Christian. Finally I found a day to visit Miyako and celebrated Mass on last Sunday.

Development in town gave great changes in face of Miyako but the city has been suffering the decreasing number of population especially among youths. The church community was small and aging. There are number of long time members who know me as a baby. However, I could also see a glimpse of hope in the community. There are number of young people joining the Mass. Present Parish priest is Fr. Felipe, MG from Mexico who is an energetic and cheerful young priest. Both senior and young members are happy to be with him.

Thank you so much for your wonderful hospitality, Fr.Felipe and the community and I will try to visit Miyako more often.

Sep 25, 2009

Touring Akita - 3

Finally on 22, Tuesday, we had a quite special Mass in a chapel of the Seitai Hoshi Kai in Akita. Rev.Fr. Peter Mitsuyo NISHIMURA celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination to the priesthood. Fr.NISHIMURA, 80 years old Niigata diocesan priest, has been serving as a chaplain to the Seitai Hoshi Kai for nearly 20 years. Originally from Hokkaido, Father joined the Trappist monastery in Hakodate and later joined the Niigata diocese as a seminarian. The faithful priest is a very shy person who does not want to stand in the spotlight so that it was very difficult to persuade him to have this celebration. Such a humble priest in true humility!

Several diocesan priests and SVD priests in Akita joined the celebration. Congratulations, Father NISHIMURA and we sincerely thank you for your wonderful service and dedication to the Church. Many more years as Catholic priest, Father Nishimura!

Sep 24, 2009

Touring Akita - 2

St.Augustine Parish in Akita celebrated the 125 anniversary of its foundation on Monday, 21 September. According to the parish record, the very first baptism was recorded on 6 January 1884 by a Paris Foreign Mission's (MEP) missionary who was assigned to Akita that year. Around the time of the re-opening of the country in 1868, MEP was asked to be in charge of mission in Japan by the Propaganda Fide. Therefore, majority of parishes in our area which have more than 100 years of history had been established by MEP missionaries including our Cathedral parish in Niigata. In 1907, SVD missionaries have arrived in Japan and assigned to take over the mission in Akita. Since then, Akita has been the SVD mission district. Present parish priest, Fr.Makoto Nagayama, SVD is the 34th parish priest of Akita.

Among the con-celebrants were SVD Provincial Superior, MEP Vice-Provincial, those SVDs formerly worked in Akita, present members of SVDs in the district, other priests from Yamagata and Niigata. More than 20 priests and nearly 400 people joined the Mass presided over by myself. Liturgy was well prepared by the Parish priest though he read wrong passage of gospel during the Mass which made me a bit uneasy to deliver a homily. Well, for such an august occasion, any one would suffer from stage fright.

After the Mass, we moved to the Castle Hotel, just adjacent the Church, to celebrate. It was a well organised party with modest box lunch style food, which was excellently prepared though, and a lot of Sake, original local drinks. Different age groups offered songs and also priests were asked to sing a song. Since we did not remember a lot of common songs among priests, we decided to sing Salve Regina in Latin which the catholic priest should be able to sing by heart.

We sincerely give thanks to those missionaries who dedicated their lives for mission in Akita. We are also grateful to people who supported Church activities for past 125 years. We can easily imagine that foreign missionaries had really hard time just to live in rural Japan more than 100 years ago. They started everything from scratch, from complete zero. But today, though we are facing many difficulties to spread the good news in Japan, we are not starting from zero. We have a good foundation laid by these missionaries. So we should not be afraid to go forward to proclaim good news of Jesus in our diocese.

Touring Akita - 1

After a week long tour of Akita, I am just back in Niigata last night. During my stay in Akita, mostly stayed in the SEITAI HOSHI KAI convent, I had several different events to attend.

First of all, there was a seminar for presidents of Catholic Junior Colleges in Japan on 17 and 18 in Akita Seirei Junior College (the SSpS school) for which 10 junior colleges sent their delegates . Their request for me was to deliver a keynote address on the theme of "what I expect from the Catholic Junior College" and celebrate a Mass. This topic given to me was quite delicate and difficult to talk since it had been a common understanding that all these small scale private Catholic colleges in Japan had been facing similar problem of decline in enrollment, absence of successor in respective religious congregations and financial crisis. It was useless for me to repeat all these problems so that I had to concentrate of the local issue. I mentioned that, though I understand their difficult situation, I expect these colleges to become a primary tool for evangelisation since school provides opportunity to Christianity to meet people who do not have any interest to visit our church.

Then on Sunday, 20, I made a pastoral visit of Tsuchisaki parish in Akita city. Parish priest is Fr.Kotaro Iino, SVD. Since following day is the National day for respect-for-the-Aged, the parish also celebrated a day for senior members. During the Mass, several senior members over 75 years old came forward to receive blessing. Reflecting the reality of Japanese society which is rapidly graying, it has been sometime since we do not hear any sound of young kids or babies during Mass in many parishes and Tsuchisaki was no exception. I hope we would be able to attract more young family to join us. After the Mass, a small but warm reception was held in a parish hall with "KIRITANPO-NABE", Akita's favorite. Thank you for wonderful reception and beautiful songs. (Photo above; those senior members of Tsuchisaki received special blessing)

Sep 15, 2009

Consultors meeting in Tsuruoka

The Niigata diocesan consultors meet every other month in Niigata except once a year in September in one of 5 districts in the diocese. The consultors are appointed by bishop to give him advice on diocesan issues. In Niigata at present, the consultors meeting consists of 6 priests, 3 diocesan and 3 religious from Nagaoka, Yamagata and Akita districts.

As for this year's September meeting, we went to Tsuruoka in Yamagata districts. We had discussion yesterday from 3 pm and diner together. Then this morning we met again in Tsuruoka parish to celebrate Eucharist with some of the parishioners. I was glad to meet more than 20 parishioners to participates in the Mass today even though it was a weekday morning.

After the Mass, I drove down to Shinjo to see several proposed sites for the new parish in Shinjo in Yamagata district. Together with Fr.Honma, the district superior, Fr.Otaki, the secretary general of the diocese and several parishioners, we visited 2 proposed sites. Both were good size and location for Church activities. So I asked the community to deepen their discussion and try to find the solution as soon as possible. Let us pray that Almighty Father will guide us through this process so that we will realise the establishment of Shinjo parish as soon as possible. We may need more prayer and, also more fund to realise the dream.

Sep 13, 2009

Back from Taiwan

I have been to Taiwan to participate in a week long retreat organised by the Cor Unum (Pontifical Council for Human and Christian Development) from 6 to 11 September in Fu-Jen University in Taipei. More than 400 participants from all over Asia assembled in the medical department building of the University which has been run jointly by SJ, SVD and diocese. There were more than 60 bishops including 5 cardinals, Cardinal Cordes( president of the Cor Unum),retired Cardinal Zen of HongKong, Cardinal Rosales of Manila, Cardinal Toppo of Ranchi, India and retired Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi of Kaohsiung. Japan was represented by myself, Fr.Machida, the diocesan Caritas director of Niigata and Mr. Tadokoro, the director of Caritas Japan. Biggest number of the participants came from India with more than 60 followed by Filipino group and Vietnamese group.

Morning reflection was given every day by Br.Yesudas, the former servant general of the Missionary Brothers of Charity. Originally Sr.Nirmala, the former superior of the Missionaries of Charity supposed to travel from New York to Taipei to share her reflection but due to her health condition, Sr. Preme, present superior of the MC recommended Br.Yesudas as the speaker.

Majority of the participants were directors and officers of either National or Diocesan Caritas all over Asia including Middle East. We were happy to welcome participants from Iraq among us and others from Holy Land to be with us to pray for peace. All together, 26 countries and territories of Asia were represented.

President of the Republic, Mr.Ma Ying-jeou graced the occasion by attending the closing ceremony and delivered very good speech on Catholic Church's role on development in the third world countries.

Thank you for students and staff of the Fu-Jen University for your wonderful organisation and hospitality. It was really amazing to see that they could take all of us, more than 400 participants, residing in 4 different hostels which were scattered around the city to be in the assembly hall of the university on time every day for the morning prayer. You really did very good job. Thank you. (Photo above. The Vietnamese group presenting the life story of their hero, Cardinal Van Thuan)

Sep 5, 2009

Resounding Michael Jackson

It is September and the season for "UN-DO-KAI (Sports festival)" in schools in Japan. An Junior High School next to our Cathedral is no exception and today is the day for them to enjoy all kinds of sports games while their parents are watching with well prepared lunch boxes for their kids. It used to be held in October when I was a kid. In 1964, the 18th Olympic Games started on 10 October in Tokyo and since then, 10 October was designated as the "National Health Sports Day" by the government. (By the way in 2000, the date of the day was changed to the second Monday of October by a new law.) Maybe because of this National Holiday in October, our generation's mind set was created to think that month of October is the month for sports activities. Well, change in the school calender has made the Un-Do-Kai to move to September recent days. The timing is not the only change for modern Un-Do-Kai but its back ground music to cheer participants. It used be a traditional marching music such as "The Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa. But I am hearing this morning from the Junior High next to the Cathedral exiting music by Michel Jackson. The time has changed.

I just came back from Tokyo for 3 days of meetings in the Bishops' Conference. I attended 4 meetings including 2 for Caritas Japan. Particularly, in yesterday afternoon, we hold an editorial meeting for a booklet for next year's Lent. Caritas Japan has been tasked by the Bishops' Conference to produce a booklet for Lent to provide a material for spiritual recollection for more than 12 years. Since this is the Year for Priests, we will include several life stories of priests in Japan.

I am traveling to Taipei tomorrow till 12 to attend a retreat organised by Cor Unum (Pontifical Council for Human and Christian Development ). Therefore, next posting might be after 12 September. (Photo above is a Japanese government Jumbo jet exercising in Chitose airport in Hokkaido)