Dec 31, 2009

Cardinal Shirayanagi passed away

Peter Cardinal Seiichi Shirayanagi, Archbishop emeritus of Tokyo, passed away yesterday morning in Tokyo at the age of 81. He had suffered from heart problem and other complications in August and hospitalised since then. We all remember him for his very powerful and moving homily in Nagasaki during the Beatification Mass of 188 Japanese martyrs in November last year. Funeral Mass will take place in St.Mary's Cathedral of Tokyo at 11 am on 5 January. May he rest in perfect Peace.

Today is the last day of the year 2009. Quite a number of people, despite cold and wild winter weather, make effort to visit Shrines to thank god for past year and ask for blessing and good fortune for new year. Visiting shrine during the end and beginning of the year has been a tradition of Japanese society. Catholic Church, too, has special Mass for this period of the year. There will be a midnight Mass this evening in many Churches in Japan. In Niigata Cathedral, I will preside over the Mass for the World Day of Peace. The Mass will begin at 12 midnight. Then there will be another Mass at 11 am in Niigata Cathedral for the feast day of Mary Mother of God. You are welcome to join the Mass to thank God for the past year and ask for blessing.

Dec 27, 2009

International Christmas in Niigata

On the Christmas day at 2 pm in Niigata Cathedral, English Mass was celebrated especially for non Japanese speaking Catholics. Though majority of them were from Philippines, there were much more nationalities among those who joined the celebration. Also number of them came with their families. There are many cases of international marriage with Japanese in this area. The usual English Mass in Niigata Cathedral is scheduled for first Sunday of every month which has been attended by more than 50 people regularly. Unfortunately 25 December is a working day in Japan and the attendance for the Christmas Mass was not so much. However, those who managed to join the celebration got together at the Parish Hall after the Mass for a party.

The party which was attended by around 30 people, both Japanese members of the Parish and English Mass community members together with their families, was well organised by themselves. Singers prepared well and the Bamboo Dance was excellent. I think even those who are advanced in age, especially among the Japanese members, enjoyed several games, including playing musical chairs. I also joined and sung two Japanese songs and, more over, we all enjoyed powerful performance of the Parish Priest, Fr. Junichi Ebe, with his bamboo flute (SHAKU HACHI).

Thank you for those who prepared for the party. I really enjoyed the time with the group. As I said at the beginning of the party, you have been sent to Japan to be a witness of the Gospel. You do not have to go out and proclaim the good news, rather you should be a living testimony of the message of God among your families and communities where the traditional Japanese Church could not reach out. You are missionaries in this diocese. I count on you.

Dec 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all !

How was your Christmas celebration? Though we just began our Christmas celebration yesterday in our faith tradition, in fact, the celebration was already over in Japan except among us, Christians. After the celebration in our Cathedral had completed, I went for a walk around 7 pm to downtown Niigata which is just a few minutes away from my house. As I was passing by the Daiwa department store in downtown Niigata, I realised that the number of company staff removing the "Dancing Rabbits" and other Christmas ornaments away. Wow, it is still on the Christmas day but they are removing all these as if the celebration is over. Well, yes it is in Japan.

As I mentioned about these machine rabbits on November 14's post, the "Usagi (Rabbit) Dancing Team" of Daiwa department store has been a common sight in Niigata to prepare for Christmas. Then in order to replace these Christmas decoration, a beautiful and magnificent flower arrangement was brought in to the spot to be ready for the New Year's celebration. So today in the town, no one is thinking about Christmas anymore but the New Year celebration.

Well, on 24 at 8 pm in Niigata Cathedral, during the midnight Mass of the Nativity of the Lord presided by myself, 3 ladies were baptised. Two of them were Japanese and one was a Brazilian lady. As usual in the past, so many non-Christians came to attend the Mass. For quite sometime, spending time in Christian Churches for Christmas Eve has been a kind of fashion in Japan. So our Cathedral which can contain only 300 people was packed. I hope my message on dignity of Human lives which is a gift of God left something in the heart of those who just happened to be with us for the celebration.

Dec 24, 2009

Visit to Bangladesh

I have made a 5-day visit of Bangladesh from 14 to 18 December as a member of the Caritas Japan team. Caritas Japan has been assisting 3 specific programs in cooperation with Caritas Bangladesh. Our financial assistance goes to the "Education Support Program to Children (ESPC)" which support especially children of indigenous people in 3 areas. As for this visit, we made a 3-day trip to north west city of Rajshahi where more than 300 kids receives financial assistance to continue their secondary education. Caritas Japan also assist children in Chittagong and Sylhet within the framework of the same program.

Caritas Bangladesh which employs more than 3,500 as full time staff and another 3,500 as part time staff all over Bangladesh is regarded as one of the best NGOs in the country by many, probably also by the government. At this moment, they manage more than 60 programs in the country. Though the number of Catholics in the country is less than 0.3% of the entire population of more than 150 million and majority of the country are Muslim, this Catholic NGO managed to achieve such reputation through their efficient activities and good relationship with other religious believers. In fact, 60% of employee of the CB are from Muslim community.

Children we met in Rajshahi were quite enthusiastic about realising their future dreams such as being doctor, teacher, nurse and engineer, even some among them aspire to be religious. Indigenous people in Bangladesh has been going through hard time since the independence of the country in 1971 from Pakistan. As they belong neither Hindu nor Muslim communities, they could not find their own place in neither in India nor Bangladesh. Many of them are landless and jobless. Unfortunately, as in many other countries which has indigenous people, their fundamental human rights have not been protected and secured.

We visited a family of one student. Their house was surrounded by paddy fields but none of them belong to the family. They are landless and living on the public property. In order to make a living, the parents have to be hired by day labor which provide them less than 200 Yen a day for each. Despite of all sort of difficulties, father of the student told me his hope and expectation of blight future of his son through education which Caritas Japan has been assisting. He was determined to overcome any difficulties for his Son to continue his education. (Photo above is the father of the student)

My gratitude to Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi who hosted me in his residence with his warm smile and also to Dr. Benedict Alo D'Rozario, the executive director of CB and all other staff members of CB.

Dec 20, 2009

Snow, snow ,snow!

I am back in Niigata from a 5-day-visit of Bangladesh for Caritas Japan. As I arrived at Niigata station yesterday morning, snow-covered Niigata city welcomed me. Heavy snow fall started on Thursday and today, Sunday, it is still snowing hard. According to a newspaper, this is the record snow fall of December in Niigata city in 24 years. Niigata prefecture is famous as snow region but Niigata city itself does not have so much snow usually. So this is really exceptional.

Despite this heavy snow fall, more than 20 youths from several parishes in Niigata area gathered together at Niigata Catholic Center for their Christmas gathering this afternoon at 2 pm. They started the event with baking Christmas cake by themselves. Then they went into the group discussion on the theme of meaning of Christmas. Around 4 pm, I also joined the group. After listening to their reports of the group discussion, I gave a talk on the meaning of Christmas in modern society.

In fact, Christmas celebration is quite common in modern Japanese society and shops are filled with Christmas gifts. However, in most cases, these celebrations are without Jesus himself. So it is easy to say that their Christmas is fake and the "real" Christmas is our possession. However this kind of distinction does not produce anything good out of it. Rather we should think that all these secular Christmas events have their roots in the birth of Jesus Christ and because of this,their origin, it will produce something good in the society such as sharing gifts or sharing table with someone. Good has to produce good.

After the sharing and my talk, now we shared the cake followed by exchange of gifts and several songs. Thank you for coming to the party and I hope you will bring this joy of Christmas to your family and friends.

Dec 11, 2009

Taking charge of Sapporo diocese

So now I am officially started my duty as an apostolic administrator of Sapporo on Monday. All the district superiors and number of priests working in the diocese, both diocesan and religious, gathered together at the Diocesan center on Monday at 10:30 am. With them, I have managed to appoint Fr.Uesugi, a diocesan priest, as my representative in Sapporo. He will represent me in the diocese while I am not in Sapporo and act as a liaison. Together with the diocesan chancellor, Fr.Kato, I will discuss day-to-day operation of the diocese within this 3 men team. Then I also asked all the priests to remain in their positions in the diocese for mean time. Komon-kai will remain as it is, adding my representative as a new member, though. I hope and pray, and at the same time I ask everyone to pray with me, that a new bishop for Sapporo to be appointed as soon as possible. Mean while, I may have to travel to Sapporo once a month, mostly during the last week of each month. (Photo above is the Sapporo diocesan chancellor's office)

After the meeting with priests, we all went to the Cathedral for my "installation". Of course, I am not a diocesan bishop of Sapporo and, therefore, I am not eligible to take the see of Sapporo. However, as a diocesan administrator, I have to profess my faith and take an oath in front of witnesses. So I did in the chapel on Monday in front of these priests praying for me. We are also planning to organise a thanksgiving Mass for retired Bishop Jinushi sometime in February in Sapporo.

I will be flying to Bangladesh from Sunday till Saturday for Caritas Japan business. So that the next posting will be on or after 20 December.

Dec 8, 2009

Confirmation in Nagaoka

Last Sunday, the second Sunday of advent, 9 people received the sacrament of confirmation in Nagaoka city in Niigata prefecture. There are 2 parishes in Nagaoka across the JR railroad, one in Fukuzumi and the other in Omotemachi. Out of these 9 confirmed, one young lady was confirmed in Fukuzumi at 6:30 am. She had to take very important exam to enter a high school during the day and unable to join others for usual Sunday Mass. The morning Mass was attend by her family and more than 10 members who, after Mass, sat together for breakfast.

Then 8 people received the sacrament during 10:15 am Mass in Omotemachi. Parish priest, Fr. Bruno, an Italian Franciscan, and his assistant, Fr. Ferdi, a Filipino SVD, con celebrated with me. I was so happy to say Mass with so many small boys and girls trying hard to serve Mass as alter boys and girls. They did very well though each one did not have much to do since there are too many.

After the Mass at 1 pm, I had to drive down to Kamo city for blessing of a new kindergarten building. You might remember that I did the Groundbreaking ceremony for the construction on 28 April. The construction company, Shibata Kensetsu, did very good job and the director, Fr.Kamata and all the staff members of the KG were so happy. Congratulations for Kamo Shirayuri Kindergarten.

Then I flew to Sapporo on Sunday night to attend a meeting with priests working in the Sapporo diocese and also to be sworn in as the apostolic administrator during a ceremony on Monday morning in Sapporo Cathedral.

Dec 4, 2009

It's Chrismas season in Japan!

If you are to be in Japan at this time of the year, you will believe what I am telling you that Japan is a Christian country. Of course, business people definitely seizes an opportunity of festive mood of Christmas so that, in all over Japan, Christmas decors permeated every shopping districts. But not only for the business districts. Quite high percentage of people in Japan considers Christmas as one of the important annual events in this country. Especially for young couples, arranging for a special diner in a luxury hotel or an expensive restaurant on Christmas eve has been a kind of modern life style's must for them. Then after the dinner, many of them take time to come to us, means to attend Mass in our Churches. For many parishes in Japan, Christmas midnight Mass provides highest annual Mass attendance.

I hope these people would meet and know the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dec 1, 2009

Pilgrimage to Rome

More than 160 pilgrims from Japan waved small national flags of both Japan and the Holy See during the general audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 25 November. On the stage sitting next to Holy Father were 6 Japanese bishops, including myself together with Apostolic Nuncio to Japan. The pilgrimage had been planned by the Japanese Bishops conference to show our gratitude to Holy Father on beatification of 188 martyrs a year ago and present the relics of Japanese martyrs to him. The group of pilgrims were divided into several small groups and each group had different itinerary. I joined the group of 13 which followed the shortest schedule of leaving Japan on Monday and return to Narita on Saturday. Among these 13 were Bishop Jinushi, emeritus bishop of Sapporo, and Father Urano of Tokyo diocese.

All the groups came together for the Wednesday's activities which included the general audience to meet Holy Father, Mass in Vatican city government office chapel, private visit to the Sistine Chapel and a diner in near by Hotel inviting several Cardinals and other dignitaries, among them was Mr Ueno, the Japanese ambassador to Holy See. It was a long day and tough activities for most of the pilgrims who were quite advanced in age.

Besides the Wednesday activities, we had a chance to celebrate Mass in Lateran basilica and Jesu Church where the right arm of St Francis Xavier has been kept and venerated. He is the beginning of everything of Christian history in Japan. I was privileged to give homily during that Mass.