Dec 27, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all in Niigata and Sapporo dioceses!

During our midnight Mass in Niigata cathedral on 24th evening, 2 strong young men have been baptized and also been confirmed by me after several months of intensive preparation by Fr. Ebe, the parish priest and his assistant, Fr. Sakamoto.  As usual, the Cathedral was packed by the people to join the Christmas celebration including quite number of non-Christians.  The evening Mass on 24th December attracts many non-Christians in Japan and a Christmas party has become December tradition in recent Japan.  At least those who decided to come to Church on the night had chance to listen to the Word of God. 

Northern part of Japan has been covered by heavy snow fall for the Christmas day.  Niigata city itself was not so bad but it was so cold.  And the highway connecting Niigata and Fukushima was closed down completely for 2 days because of heavy snowfall and more than 300 cars were stuck for hours in cold snow.  According to the weather forecast, it may snow heavy again in the end of the year.  I got to fly to Sapporo tomorrow and have to return to Niigata for the midnight Mass on 31 December.  I hope I will make it to Sapporo and return to Niigata on time for the end of the year Mass.

Dec 8, 2010

Tornado hit a part of Niigata

On 3 December in the afternoon around 3 pm, a small tornado hit a part of Niigata city.  It was really a windy afternoon and very cold.  Fr. Fernando, a parish administrator of Hanazono Parish, was staying in his room in Toyano Church, an out-station of Hanazono, when a part of roof of Toyano Church was ripped off violently with great noise.  Thank God that he was not hurt but a half of the front roof of the Church building was completely damaged and inside the building, especially the second floor, was soaked with strong rain.  Nearby High School building was also damaged and several students were injured by broken windows.  According to the local meteorological observatory, the area was hit by a small tornado.  Recently we hear a lot of incidents of tornado in Japan.  Until few years ago, we thought that tornado has nothing to do with Japan.  Is this because of climate change we are talking about?

Nov 30, 2010

Chapel renovation in Yamagata completed

The parish chapel of Yamagata has been under renovation for past few months and the construction work has been completed by the end of October.  So the re-dedication Mass of the Parish Chapel was celebrated on 28 November, the first Sunday of Advent, which was attended by more than 100 parishioners including those members from Shinjo.  Entire flooring, ceiling and wall have been refurbished and a new stained glass window has been added behind the alter, above the crucifix.  Also in order to make the building earthquake resistant, several windows have been removed so that walls would be able to withstand powerful quakes.  A slope way has been added at the entrance of the chapel so that wheel chairs could easily enter the place of worship and prayer. Parish priest, Fr. Honma and the parish council members went through hard time to negotiate with parishioners on several issues on the renovation planning.  I do appreciate their tireless effort to involve everyone in the parish community.  Ayekoo (GOKURO-SAMA, or good job in Ghana local language). 

After the Mass on Sunday, a celebration get-together was held in the parish hall.  Almost half of the participants were our Filipino members who brought their famous Filipino foods for sharing.  I really enjoyed its international atmosphere of the Yamagata Parish community.  I hope that the renovated chapel would be the foundation of the active community life so that the Church community of Yamagata would be the symbol of unity and communion among the society which is in need of clear direction for the better life.  Many people are at a loss of clear direction of their own life and present society which does not give due respect to human lives can not provide bright and clear vision for the future.

Nov 25, 2010

The 16th Korea-Japan Bishops Exchange meeting

The 16th Korea-Japan Bishops Exchange meeting was held in Cheongju in Korea from 16 to 18 November.  All together 13 Bishops from Japan and 17 Bishops from Korea participated in the program.  This year, our main theme of the program was suicide which has been one of the major social problem in both Japan and Korea recently.  As for Japan, since 1998 more than thirty thousand people commit suicide every year because of various reasons.  My diocese, Niigata, has the highest rate of suicide among elderly people.  Since Caritas Japan has been tackling with this problem in Japan, Bishop Koda who is in charge of the social enlightenment program of Caritas Japan gave a talk on the topic of "Suicide and pastoral response of the Church in Japan."  Dr. Hong Kang-eui from Korea gave a talk on the topic of "Present state of suicide in Korea and policy directions."

Caritas Japan has just published a booklet on this issue based on the survey in several Catholic communities in Japan.  This booklet in Japanese is available free of charge from Caritas Japan office in Tokyo.

It seems that the Catholic Church in Korea has been receiving quite a number of new episcopal appointments in past few years so that there were number of new faces among participants.  There are 16 dioceses in Japan.  Korea also have the same number of the diocese including the military ordinary but the total number of bishops are much more than Japan since there are several auxiliaries.  Whenever I visit the Catholic Church in Korea, I really feel overwhelmed by their size and power.  According to the statics, there are more than 4 million Catholic in South Korea which is around 9% of the population while there are around half a million Catholics in Japan which is far less than 1% of the population.  There are around 700 priests in the Seoul archdiocese while I have less than 20 priests in my diocese.      

Nov 14, 2010

Caritas Diocesan directors met in Hiroshima

Caritas Japan has organised an annual diocesan directors meeting from 9 to 11 November in Hiroshima.  Though the respective dioceses have quite different type of Caritas organisations, majority of the directors from 16 Catholic dioceses in Japan got together in the diocesan administration office in Hiroshima.  As these directors have been appointed by their own bishops for charitable activities or welfare activities in their dioceses and not directly for the national organisation, Caritas Japan have to coordinate with the diocesan directors at least once a year to ask their assistance especially in fund raising activities.  Without assistance from them, Caritas Japan is unable to organise fund raising as we have been doing.

It was my second time to visit Hiroshima.  Since I did not have enough time to visit the A-bomb memorial last time, I wanted to make sure to take time to visit the memorial.  I have been to Nagasaki memorial several times but Hiroshima memorial also had quite an impact on me.  We human beings should utilise our wisdom which has been granted by God to avoid such misery of our own making.  (Photo above:  Hiroshima Peace memorial Chapel with a statue of JPII who visited Hiroshima in 1981)

Seoul Pax Forum

I was honored to be invited as a keynote speaker for the 2010 Seoul Pax Forum organised by the Catholic Education Foundation and the Catholic University of Korea on 5 November in Seoul.  The Foundation was established in 1994 with the sponsorship of the Seoul Archdiocese and is currently administering several schools in Seoul Archdiocese including the Catholic University of Korea.  The venue of the forum was the St. Mary's Hospital which is also under the administration of the Foundation.  This is the second forum organised by the Foundation with the theme, "Solidarity for Asian Peace".  It was my first experience to give a talk outside Japan and also in completely prepared English text.  Because of the translation and publication of a booklet, the text had been prepared beforehand and was sent to the organising committee so that what I had to do was to just read through the text.  I spoke on the very basics of the Human Development from the view point of Catholic Church as a president of Caritas Japan.  I do believe the concept of Human Development has common value with the Gospel message and Caritas organisation of the Catholic Church could be the best tool to implement this concept since the Caritas organisation is both global and local at the same time.  Caritas organisation is always with people in grassroots level since the organisation completely rely on the local Church structure.  Where there is a Catholic Church, then there is Caritas.

I am grateful to the organizer of the forum to invite me to share my thoughts on development and also share our experience, for Caritas Japan,  to be a part of peace building and development in Asia.

Oct 31, 2010

This is the day, for Shinjo.

A Catholic community in Shinjo in Yamagata prefecture has finally acquired their own place of worship on Thursday, 28 October.  It took more than 9 years to make their dream come true.  According to the sharing by one of their leading members, when she had arrived in Shinjo area 22 years ago, she could find everything she needed for her life except a place of worship.  In the year 2001, Fr. Honma, then a parish priest of Tsuruoka decided to travel to Shinjo to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in a public facility and asked her to invite her friends to come for the Mass.  She went around the town to find her friends even during the shopping in a local supermarket.  When I first visited their community in 2005, I was actually surprised to know that so many of them were there.  The majority of the Catholic community in Shinjo are from Philippines.  In 80's and 90's, the local government invited Filipinos, Chinese and Korean ladies to come to Japan to be wives of local Japanese farmers.  In 2007, when I made yet another visit to the community, I asked them to count the actual number of Filipinos in the area and we found out that there are more than 100 residing.  They are not only wives but also mothers of many kids who had been baptised.  During that visit, the community expressed their desire to build their own Church.  I was skeptical.  The community did not have enough fund in their coffers.  There were, and even now, only 2 local Japanese members in the community of Shinjo.  So when they asked me about building their Church, I said "yes" but, in fact, I thought it would be just a dream.

But God has his own plan and he provided us everything what we needed.  In my 2009 pastoral letter, I asked the entire diocese to consider to support the Shinjo so that we might be able to build a Church by 2012 when the Niigata diocese celebrates its 100th anniversary.  But an abandoned private kindergarten building and its land was put on sale last year and the information was brought to the diocese by Fr. Honma, the parish priest of Yamagata and in charge of Shinjo.  Still I was in doubt since we did not have enough contribution at that time and the Niigata diocese is not so financially well-off with only 7,000 Catholics.  However, God has his own plan to be realised.  In my surprise, so many people and parish communities,including several individuals from other dioceses, made significant contributions and early this year, we managed to purchase the property.  Thank God.  It took 6 moths to refurbish the building to make a kindergarten to a church.  A significant contributions also made us able to purchase a wonderful set of stained glasses.

As Catholic Church in Japan does not have sufficient outposts in rural villages, the presence of so many Filipinos in the villages as wives and mothers are quite crucial for the evengelisation in Japan.  In fact, as I have been telling them, they are missionaries sent to Japan to be witness of the Word of God despite their different reasons to be in Japan.  God has his own plan to proclaim his good news in Japan.

Thank you for the effort made by the Shinjo community and support from other Catholic communities in the Niigata diocese.  I also thank all other people outside the diocese who has been supporting the Catholics in Shinjo.  Now is the time for the members in Shinjo, with 2 Japanese, many Filipinos and many more kids, to consider the Church as their "base" of the life and make long-term plan to maintain the building and develop the community.  We are always with you.  

Oct 19, 2010

SVD ordination of the class 2010 in Japan

On 16th October in the parish chapel of Nanzan Catholic Church in Nagoya, 4 SVD confreres were ordained priests for the Japan province of the Society of the Divine Word.  Originally, Bishop Nomura of Nagoya diocese was asked to be the main celebrant of the ordination Mass, however, sudden change of his schedule made him unable to join the celebration.  Therefore, I was asked to be there, at the last moment,  to ordain these 4 confreres.  Fortunately, I did not have any particular program on the ordination day, so that I was able to be in Nagoya for the ordination, though I could not join the celebration after the Mass in the evening.  After all, I am privileged to ordain all together 9 SVD confreres this year; 5 in Ghana and 4 in Japan.

All the 4 new priests were from countries other than Japan but they had been in Japan for quite sometime to complete their theology formation in Nanzan University in Nagoya.  In fact, there are no Japanese seminarians among temporary professed members of the SVD in Japan at this moment. The seminary community in Nagoya is quite international.  Family members of the new priests all managed to acquire visa to Japan and join the celebration.

The ordination Mass was con-celebrated by more than 40 priests and the chapel of Nanzan which could contain more than 500 people were packed wall to wall.  Since the rector, Fr. Xavier and the prefect, Fr. Narui, trained their seminarians very well in liturgy, the ordination Mass was so solemnly performed that, time to time, I have to be directed by them how to behave well as a bishop during the Mass.  Though there were no dancing for the Mass, such as in Ghana, it took 2 and half hours to complete the ceremony.  Congratulations for the newly ordained SVD Fathers and I will be waiting to welcome you in my diocese.

Oct 14, 2010

100th anniversary of Iwamizawa Catholic Church

A parish in Iwamizawa, an hour drive from Sapporo toward the north in Hokkaido, celebrated its 100th anniversary on 11 October with thanksgiving Mass and a party.  The thanksgiving Mass, which was presided over by myself, was attended by more than 100 people and several priests working around the area.

Iwamizawa used to be a key town for the rail way transportation for coal mining business in nearby Yubari coal complex.  However, all these mines have been closed down by 1990 and city of Yubari itself went  bankrupt in 2007.  Iwamizawa city was also hit by this recession in the mining business severely and still suffering.  Iwamizawa's population is around 90,000 and the Catholic community has around 100 members in the register book.  Fr. Miyabe, a diocesan priest of Sapporo, has been a parish priest since 2005 as its 18th pastor. 

The Catholic mission was established in 1909 by a French missionary and a chapel was built in 1910.  Then the mission of Iwamizawa was entrusted to Franciscans (OFM) from Germany in 1911 until 1954 when a Maryknoll missionary was appointed as its 10th pastor.  In 1973, a diocesan priest was appointed and, since then, the pastoral care of the parish has been under the diocesan priests.  The present chapel and a rectory was built in 2002.

After the Mass, we all moved to a building of the agricultural cooperative across the street for a party.  Though the parish community is small in number, they did quite well to prepare for the celebration.  Especially, I was so happy to see so many kids praying music for us.  Also a traditional street performance by a lady and a famous folk song performance by yet another lady were quite professional and wonderful.  Thank you for inviting us for such a wonderful and warm celebration.

Oct 10, 2010

Network Meeting in Shikotsuko

The 19th Network Meeting has been held in Shikotsuko (Lake Shikotsu) in Hokkaido from 9 to 10 October and more than 100 Catholic youths from all over Japan have gathered together in the Youth Hostel for their bi-annual meeting to exchange information on the Catholic Youth Apostolate in each diocese and deepen their friendship.  The Network Meeting itself has been planned and executed by young Catholics in Japan by themselves and assisted by the Japan Catholic Youth National Council, the officially recognized council by Bishops' Conference.  In 1998, the Bishops' Conference decided to discontinue the National Youth Committee of the Bishops'Conference and asked each of 16 dioceses in Japan to organise their own youth apostolate according to the local needs and situation.  However, Catholic Youth themselves felt needs to create their own association in national level to support each other and, thus, created the Japan Catholic Youth Council as their own organisation.  Through their discussion in the Council, they came with this bright idea of organising a network of youth apostolate in the Catholic Church in Japan and of organising bi-annual gatherings of youth in national level.  The very first meeting was held in Tokyo in 2001 and after 9 years, finally, it reached the northern end of Japan. The Bishops' Conference is supporting the youth apostolate by appointing Bishop Koriyama of Kagoshima as a bishop in charge.

For the 19th meeting, more than 20 youths from Sapporo diocese set up the organizing committee under the guidance of Fr. Morita, the diocesan youth chaplain.  The committee created wonderful 2-day program of activities and also organised themselves to prepare wonderful meals which was appreciated by participants from all over Japan including 8 priests and a Sister. Niigata diocese was represented by 4 youths.

The participants were divided into 10 groups and, on Saturday afternoon which I had participated in, sent out to look for 20 typical Hokkaido scenery which they had to take photos.  Photo above is the one of these groups taking one of these photos.  The very first item the participants from outside Hokkaido in this group mentioned was a buttered potatoes which is quite popular in Hokkaido.

Oct 4, 2010

The International day in Sapporo diocese celebrated

On 26 September, the Mission Sunday, the annual International Day was celebrated in Sapporo diocese.  The cathedral parish, Kita-ichijo, was the venue for the 11th International Day which was began with the Sunday Eucharist at 10:30 am presided over by me.  I could see during the Mass that there were more than 200 people attending.  One of the members of the English Mass community was the organist and there was a wonderful choir for the Mass.  Mass was said in mixture of several languages.

After the Mass, there was a festival in the KG ground where one could find good food from all over the world.  Also so many talented people in Sapporo gathered together to sing and dance.  Even there were African drumming performance and a gospel choir.  Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to enjoy with them since I had to go back to Niigata.

Sep 22, 2010

The 36th Justice and Peace National Assembly in Sapporo

Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace has organised their 36th national assembly from 18 to 20 September in Sapporo.  More than 300 people participated in the event which was hosted by Sapporo Diocese.  Main theme of the assembly was "realising the true co-existing society" and particular focus was given to the local issue of human rights in Hokkaido, the history with AINU, the indigenous people in Japan. 

On the first day, we had the first study session in the chapel of Anglican Church in Sapporo near Hokkaido University.  Bishop Uematsu of Hokkaido and the Anglican primate of Japan was also in attendance.  We invited several people from the AINU association of Hokkaido to give us talks on their history and culture.  Mr. Abe, the vice president of the association talked on the history and reality of discrimination against to them in Japanese society and how they had been fighting for their own rights.  Ms.Ogawa and her son gave us wonderful cultural performance.  (Photo above: Ms. Ogawa explaining about their traditional dress)

On the second day after morning Mass in Kita-Jyuichijo parish presided by Bishop Tani, the chairman of the Council, participants were divided into 10 groups, 5 for excursions and 5 for study sessions.

Then on the third day in Kita-Jyuichijo parish, 3 bishops, Bishop Matsuura of Osaka, Bishop Koda of Tokyo and myself gave half an hour presentation respectively on the issue of human rights.  I spoke on the tribal segregation and human life referring to the history of Rwanda and the political manipulation of people which should be considered as one of causes of genocide in 1994.  After the talks, closing Mass was celebrated with more than 500 people.  There were not only those who came for the Justice and Peace assembly but also many more diocesan members who joined the session with 3 bishops and Mass.  Many thanks to the local commission for Justice and Peace who had spent so much time and energy to prepare for the event together with Fr. Shinkai.

Sep 21, 2010

Confirmation in Hakodate

30 members of Catholic parishes in Hakodate area in Sapporo diocese have received sacrament of confirmation on 12 September in Miyamae-cho Catholic Church in Hakodate.  They were from parishes in Tobetsu, Motomachi, Yunokawa and Miyamae-cho together with their respective parish priests, Fr.Koyama of Tobetsu, Fr. Raud of Motomachi, Fr Haure of Yunokawa and Fr. Goto of Miyamae-cho who is also the dean of Hakodate district.  The chapel of Miyamae-cho, a circular and tabernacle look-alike building is a quite modern and unique construction with a lot of open space. However, when these 30 people stood in front of the alter with their patrons, no more space was left form me to walk around.   More than 300 people attended the Mass which was filled by joy and enthusiasm.

Since this was my first visit to Hakodate as the apostolic administrator of Sapporo, Fr. Goto arranged a talk by me on Saturday afternoon with parishioners.  I wanted people to know who I am so that I gave a power point presentation on my missionary days in Ghana.  After the talk, we went out to a local restaurant with more more than 20 members for a good diner of fresh fish and wonderful Sake drinks.

Sep 8, 2010

Khabarovsk visit

A 10-member delegation team from Niigata diocese has completed this years exchange visit to Khabarovsk on 30 August.  The visit was a part of our exchange programme between Niigata diocese and Khabarovsk Catholic Church in Irkutsk diocese, Russia.  The team was consisted of 2 priests, Fr.Machida and Fr. Sakamoto, 3 university students, 4 supporting members and myself.   We left Niigata on 25 August from Niigata airport and returned to Narita on 30 morning since there is only one flight a week between Niigata and Khabarovsk at this moment.  Main purpose of the visit was to organise exchange programme with the Youth in Khabarovsk Catholic Community.  We could manage to bring only 3 youths from Japan, mostly because of the quite high cost of the travel, but around 10 youths joined the programme from Russia side.

Under the loving guidance of 3 Rev. Sisters of SSVM, the female branch of the Argentina-based Institute of the Incarnate Word, of which the Parish priest, Fr. Marcelo belongs to, both Japanese and Russian youths enjoyed several activities together in spite of deep language barrier.  Thanks to the wonderful translation efforts made by Ms. Takahashi who used to work in Khabarovsk as a lay missionary to stand in between 2 language groups to make them able to understand each other.  After a few days of spending together, they started to try to communicate through English, signs and drawings.  They also tried to use their own tourist conversation books by pointing at the appropriate sentences in the book. 

We are also grateful to the rector of the seminary of the Orthodox Church in Khabarovsk who invited us to visit their Cathedral and seminary.  We were even allowed to climb the bell tower of the Cathedral.  Also the rector invited us to join him to visit the Orthodox Sister's convent where we were treated by wonderful dinner prepared by sisters.

I sincerely thank the Catholic community in Khabarovsk and hope that this exchange experience would continue for many more years.  I also hope that many more people from Japan would have chance to visit the Catholic community in Siberia and also have experience encounter with the Orthodox Church in Russia.  


Aug 18, 2010

Ordination of 5 SVDs in Ghana

On Saturday, 7 August, 5 young SVD missionaries from Ghana have been ordained priests in St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church in Abeka, Accra.  I was honoured to be a presiding bishop to ordain these 5 young men.  During 4-hour long celebration under mild Sunshine of rainy season in Ghana, (from left to right in the photo above) Fr. Hans Gerber Agbenafa, Fr. Elrom Akpatsa, Fr. Francis Dolagbenu, Fr. Martin Dumas and Fr. Peter Kabutey presented themselves with their respective parents as candidates for priesthood in front of more than 70 concelebrating priests and big crowd of Catholic faithful from all over Ghana.

I was particularly happy to ordain one of them, Fr. Martin Dumas whom I had known as a small alter boy in my parish in Osonson since 23 years ago.  When I was appointed to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Osonson, Upper Krobo in June 1987 as a priest-in-charge, Fr.Dumas was a 10-year old boy whose native name is Akwetey.  A son of Mr. Kwesi Dumas, faithful Catechist of Osonson, Martin was a member of the Knights of Alter boys in Osonson.   Though the most alter boys did speak quite good English, which made me easy to communicate with them, Martin, though he was one of the youngest, was particularly good in English.  Therefore I used to call him a lot to help me.  I still remember Martin and I tried to plant a lot of trees around the mission house in Osonson.  You may see the results of the planting exercise as small forest surrounding the mission house today.

Many of the alter boys joined the seminary later from Osonson but only Martin made it through.  Though I expected many more priests from Osonson, I am not disappointed as such since many of the former alter boys are now doing well in different fields in the society.  Some are teachers, businessmen, police, government officials etc..  God has unique way to call people to be a part of his own plan.  The vocation is not only for the call to be a priest.  Each one has his or her own call by God to be somebody and as they are somebody in the society, I am happy.

Out of these 5 newly ordained, only one, Fr.Kabutey has been appointed to Ghana province.  Fr.Agbenafa is for Venezuela, Fr. Akpatsa for Philippines, and Fr. Dolagbenu is for Ecuador.  Then Fr. Martin Dumas has been appointed to Japan province.   He may join the Japan province of the Society of the Divine Word as soon as next January.

Jul 27, 2010

Preparing to visit Ghana

I am visiting Ghana from 29 July to 12 August.  Therefore, a new post for this blog will not appear till 13 August since I will not carry my laptop for this trip.  Main purpose of the trip will be attending the ordination Mass for SVD priests in Accra on 7 August.  Most probably I will be honored to preside over the ordination Mass for the Ghana Province of the Divine Word Missionaries, SVD.  What is so special for this ordination of priests in Ghana this year which attracts me to travel all the way from Japan?  One of the ordinands, Frt. Martin Akwetey Dumas is originally from Osonson, Krobo.  While I was a parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson from 1987 to 1994,  Frt. Martin was a small boy, probably in primary or middle school, and one of the most active member of the Osonson Alter Boys.  His father, Mr. Dumas used be one of the chief catechists of the parish and contributed a lot especially in my parish office to keep records of sacraments and to issue baptismal cards.  Quite a number of former alter boys from Osonson at that time tried to join the priesthood but no one so far had managed to be ordained before Frt. Martin.  Please remember him and his family in your prayer.  He will preside over his first Mass in Osonson on 8 August and I will give a homily.

Last week I was in Hokkaido for a week.  On Saturday, 24 July, from 3 to 5 pm, I gave a talk on Africa in Kitaichijo Church in Sapporo.  The talk was organised by the Justice and Peace Committee of the Sapporo diocese as part of the several activities for the Peace commemoration weeks in Japan which will concluded with Peace Memorial Mass on 15 August, the day when Japanese government declare to surrender to allied forces in 1945.

Prior to the talk on Saturday, I visited north east of Hokkaido with Fr. Kato, the chancellor and reached Shiretoko Peninsula, the world natural heritage site.  Photo above is taken in the peninsula with Ezo deer and Mt.Rausu in background.  It was quite cold in that part of Japan though most of Japan was suffering of heat wave during the week.  Because of the drastic difference of the temperature, I caught cold and experienced prolonged high fever.  So with these symptoms of cold during very hot summer, I could feel that Japan is so widely spread from north to south.

Please remember Frt. Martin in your prayer and also pray for me so that I will fulfill my sacred duty as a bishop well and return home safe and sound.  So see you on 13 August and have a blessed and hot summer.      

Jul 16, 2010

The 3rd anniversary of the earthquake in Kashiwazaki area

Today, 16 July, is the 3rd anniversary of the earthquake in Kashiwazaki area.  The quake is called "Chuetsu-oki Jishin" which took 15 peoples lives and more than 1,300 houses were completely destroyed. Parish in Kashiwazaki under the pastoral care of the OFM Fathers was also affected by the quake.  Since the parish priest, Fr. Bassi who built the church is an architect, the church building was not so much affected but the kindergarten building was.  Number of Catholic members were also affected at that time.  During the early stage of recovery, the Parish community organised themselves to offer lunch and other services from the Kindergarten garage to the local people who had lost everything.  The community did very well.  Since then, the local government did very well to execute the recovery programme and local people cooperated well including the Parish community.  As we are hearing the news of severe rain fall and flood in several places in Japan for past few days, I do remember all those who have been affected by these natural disasters in my prayer.  (Photo above; a destroyed temple.  This temple has been restored recently)

By the way, the year 2010 is the 100th anniversary of birth of Mather Teresa of Calcutta and there will be the Mother Teresa Film Festival in all over Japan organized by local organising committee.  Though Catholic Church is not the main force to organise these events, the Japanese Bishops Conference is fully supporting the event.  And from 24 July to 6 August, the festival is coming to Niigata.  The venue is the "Cine Wind" in Bandai area in Niigata.  From 24 to 30 July,  the show will begin at 10 am and end at 6:20 pm with 6 shows (films).  From 31 July to 6 August, the show will begin at 2:30 pm and end at 5:45 pm with 2 shows (films).  A ticket for each show will cost JPY 1,200.  I am not so sure but you may need 6 tickets to complete the 6 shows if you wish to stay for a whole day.  You might find more detailed information in your own parish centers.

Jul 8, 2010

Mass at Hokusanbara in Yonezawa

Blessed Peter Kibe and his companions, all together 188 blessed martyrs of Japan, was once again commemorated this year on and around 1st July, their feast day, in various locations in Japan including  Yonezawa where 53 of them had been executed during the persecution period.  More than 100 faithful, mainly from parishes in Yamagata district, gathered together in Hokusanbara where Blessed Luis Amakasu and 52 companions were executed on 12 January, 1629 to join the Holy Eucharist celebrated by 4 priests and myself.  Last year May, we had the first celebration after their beatification in November 2008 in Nagasaki.  More than 900 people came to join the celebration in May and we had to ask permission from city government of Yonezawa and police department to close the surrounding streets to let people stand and join the Mass.  We have decided not to invite so many people this year so that neighbours would allow us to continue this celebration for many more years.  After so many years since the Samurai era in Japan, though the Church had managed to purchase part of the former execution ground of Hokusanbara, the place has been developed and now have been surrounded by private houses where no Catholics are living at all.  So we have to negotiate with the local community before we proceed to plan our own celebration in Hokusanbara.  Most probably, we might plan much more grand celebration every 5 years or so to invite pilgrims from all over the diocese.

July is rainy season in Japan and we were worried about the weather on Sunday, 4th July.  It was raining on Saturday.  However, as we started the Mass at 11 am on 4th July, Sunday, we were blessed be under beautiful sunshine.  Thank God for this blessing.  In fact, it started to rain by the time we all finished Mass and lunch.

After the Mass, people were divided into 6 or so groups to have lunch together and continue with sharing session on several themes related to evangelisation in Japan.  There are 5 communities in Yamagata district, Yonezawa, Yamagata, Nagai, Tsuruoka and Sakata.  Then one community is now emerging from Shinjo.  Shinjo community is mainly by Filipino Catholics and their children.  In fact, through generous assistance from many and through their own efforts, the Shinjo community are now building their own Church.  Thank God for this blessing.  Though Yamagata district is not so big, people are scattered around and are able to meet only once a while.  So that the sharing session after the lunch was really inspiring for many.  I would like to thank especially for the members of Yonezawa for their effort to prepare for the celebration.  Lunch box which they chose and bought was wonderful.  Thank you.  Though the community of Yonezawa is not so big, they are trying very well to keep the tradition inherited from Martyrs of Yonezawsa and maintaining good spirits.

Jul 2, 2010

Sapporo diocese priests assembly

The beginning of last month, June, priests assembly or rally for Niigata was held in Akita for 3 days.  Now it is the turn of Sapporo diocese and 41 priests and a brother working in the Sapporo diocese had gathered together in Hanakawa, an hour drive from central Sapporo, for their annual priests assembly for 3 days from 28 to 30 June.  There were diocesan priests, Maryknoll missionaries, Paris missionaries, Jesuit and Franciscans.  In fact, territory wise, Franciscans are taking care of majority of territories of the dioceses.  Diocesan priests who are not so many in numbers are much more concentrated in the Sapporo area.

I joined the gathering as the apostolic administrator and also as a lecture.  On the second day, the feast day of St Peter and Paul, I gave an talk for 2 hours on my experience in Ghana and Rwanda as a missionary.  The chairman of the priest council, Fr. Katsuya, had asked me to give a talk on building  the Small Christian Community since I had translated a book "The Small Christian Communities" a few years ago and was a member of formation team in Nagoya diocese.  However, my experience as the member of that formation team in Nagoya and as a bishop of Niigata, I now have other idea to build a parish community in Japanese Church.  So I just shared my experience in my parish in Ghana and talked about the basics of building community which we can learn from foreign assistance activity of Church through Caritas.  I have been working for Caritas Japan since 1995 and, at this moment, serving as the president for the 2nd term.  My experience in Caritas tells me that the assitance given by Caritas is quite connected with community building from which Church may learn a lot.  

Then in the evening of 29, we invited Bishop Jinushi, the emeritus bishop of Sapporo who was celebrating his names day for Peter, to have BBQ dinner together.  Photo above is Bishop Jinushi receiving gift.  It was a very hot day.  They told me that usually in the end of June should be cool and fine, but for this year it was completely strange.

I flew from Sapporo to Tokyo on Wednesday to attend 2 meetings in the Bishops Conference on Thursday and I am in Sendai this evening.  I have to give a talk on Africa tomorrow at Sendai Shirayuri University for their adult education class.  Then I will drive down to Yonezawa.  Since 1st July is the feast day for Blessed 188 martyrs of Japan and 53 are from Yonezawa, we are going to have the memorial Mass in Yonezawa on Sunday at 11 am.  Come and join us in Hokusanbara, the place where 53 Blessed were martyred in 1629.

Jun 25, 2010

More foreign aid needed to build peace

I have been granted a chance to meet someone whom I wanted to meet for so many years.  Finally I managed to meet her in her office in Tokyo on Tuesday.  She is the president of JICA, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Ms. Sadako OGATA. 

In April 1995, I was in Bukavu, Zaire as a coordinator for Caritas Japan team working in one of more than 30 Rwandan refugee camps in the area.  It was exactly one year after the beginning of genocide in Rwanda.  On 11 April at 10 pm, our camp, situated in a village called Birava, was attacked by several armed soldiers coming from the lake Kivu which was the border between Zaire and Rwanda.  They managed to cross the lake by 3 boats, according to several eye witnesses. The Birava camp was facing against to Rwanda where refugees, Futu people, came from.  Officially, no one knows who were these soldiers who attacked the camp that night.  Rumor among refugees said they were RPF from present Rwanda.  No one knows.  What I remember is 2 hours of exchange of fire and sounds of bomb blasts.  What I remember is more than 30 dead and more than 150 injured people.  I was shaken.  I can not forget the experience of that night.  Still as at now, whenever I pass by the construction site and hear the sound of jackhammer, I immediately recall that night.  At that time, we could not rely on the Mobutu's army since they were not paid enough or at all.  So we wrote a letter of appeal among Caritas members in the area to Ms. Ogata who was the High Commissioner of Refugees of UN at that time.  The local representative of UNHCR in Bukavu was Mr. Patrick D'souza who used to work for Caritas before.  He immediately took action and negotiated with the UN to hire Zaire soldiers as their own security force to protect camps.  So I wanted to thank Ms. Ogata for quick response at that time.

Now working for Japanese government as the president of the Government foreign aid agency, she shared a lot on foreign aid policy of Japan and peace building.  This meeting was organised by the publisher, Don Bosco and will appear as their article on the September issue of "Katolikku Seikatsu", a Japanese Catholic monthly magazine.  Ms. Ogata is a practising Catholic.  She emphasised that Japanese people have to realise that Japan can not survive by itself alone but only in cooperation with other countries.  To secure world peace, development aid to poorer countries is a must for Japan.

Jun 19, 2010

GA of CBCJ concluded

A week long general assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ) for the year 2010 has just been completed on Friday afternoon in Japan Catholic Center in Tokyo.  All together, 16 bishops and one administrator joined the assembly together with representatives from both male and female major superiors in Japan.  Presently there are 16 dioceses in Japan and auxiliary bishops have been assigned to Tokyo and Osaka, one for each, so that there should be 18 bishops to join the assembly.  However there are 2 sees vacant at this moment in Japan, Oita and Sapporo, and, therefore, one administrator joined the assembly from Oita.  (I am the administrator of Sapporo)

Almost 90 % of the agenda had been proposed by the Liturgy Commission, especially on the translation of Mass text for which the Liturgy Commission has been working for quite sometime.  We had to go through Latin text, present Japanese text and newly proposed translation text at the same time for entire Mass.  In fact, it takes time and we have not finished yet.  When we completed the discussion on the proposed text for this year's agenda, a secretary for the commission told us that he had 5 times more texts ready for us to discuss during next assembly.  We just heard that the English translation has just completed and got the approval from the Holy See recently but I have no idea how many more years it may take to complete the Japanese translation.

On Wednesday evening, after the afternoon presentation given by Caritas Japan on foreign aid policy of the Catholic aid agency, we went to visit the Nunciature in Tokyo.  Photo above is the chapel of the Nunciature which was renovated recently and the Nuncio is explaining us about the newly installed bronze door of the chapel.  After this, Nuncio presented a congratulatory message of Holy Father to Bishop Misue of Hiroshima who has been celebrating his 25th anniversary as bishop this year.  Then the meeting was completed with wonderful Italian dinner.

Well I finally managed to come back to my house in Niigata.  I left Niigata last Friday to Sapporo where I had to give a talk on Saturday in Maruyama parish.  Then after the talk, I flew from Sapporo to Akita to join the Akita district for Laity Rally on Sunday.  Fr. Xavier Susai, SVD, a rector of the SVD seminary in Nagoya gave a talk on the Christian vocation and I said Mass in the afternoon.  Indian born rector of the seminary attracted the laity of Akita district with his wonderful Japanese and several jokes.  From there I flew to Tokyo on Monday to join the GA of CBCJ.  Well, I have to fly again this evening to Sapporo while Japanese National Team is playing in South Africa against to Holland.  There will be confirmation Mass in Sapporo tomorrow.

Jun 10, 2010

Priests' rally in Akita

From 7 June to 9, Niigata diocesan priests' rally was held in Akita which was attended by 29 priests working in the diocese, including both diocesan and religious priests.  At this moment, all together 38 priests are working in the diocese including 2 elder Fathers who have been on their retirement.  Out of this 38, 17 are diocesan priests of Niigata, 2 are of Takamatsu, one from Tokyo diocese, 3 belongs to the Picpus Fathers, 5 belongs to the Franciscans and 10 are SVDs.  This year, the diocese received 2 new priests from SVD, Fr.Hayon, a newly ordained, from Indonesia to Akita and Fr. Odilon from Korea to Tsuchizaki.  We gathered together at Foresta Chokai Hotel in southern Akita.  Hotel is located at the foot of Mount Chokai and surrounded by deep forest.

As we are approaching to the end of the Year of Priests, we chose the theme which is closely related to the daily pastoral realities of priests.  Since Japanese bishops have been talking about the Human Life which is a gift of God, we decided to learn more about the life threatening issue in the area, the suicide issue.  Since 1998, immediately after the current economic recession has started in Japan, more than 30,000 people began to commit suicide every year up till now in all over Japan.  Number is increasing each year and Akita is well known in Japan as the area to record the highest rate of suicide almost every year.  People commit suicide because of financial difficulties, family problem, personal relationship and many other causes but most of the cases have been connected to the depression.  We invited professor Sasaki Hisanaga of Akita University who has been involving himself with the prevention effort of the local government.  Professor Sasaki is a Catholic.  We also invited Bishop Koda Kazuo of Tokyo who has been working on the topic as a bishop in charge of Caritas Japan.  Church has to learn more about the issue to be ready to respond to the need of people who are in danger of committing suicide and also to learn more about how to console the grief of families and relatives of those who committed the suicide.

May 30, 2010

Laity rally in Nagaoka

On this day of Holy Trinity Sunday, Nagaoka district's Laity Council organised annual rally in Omotemachi Parish in Nagaoka.  Nagaoka district consists of parishes in Itoigawa, Naoetsu, Takada, Myoko, Kashiwazaki, Tokamachi, Omotemachi and Fukuzumi and the district has been entrusted to Franciscans.  As for this years rally, the administratibe board of the Laity Council of the district chose "learn more about our Liturgy" as their theme and invited Fr. Shirahama, the liturgy professor of the Japan Catholic Seminary, for a talk.   For the 34th gathering of the laity in the district, Fr. Shirahama gave almost 2 hours intensive talk on the spirit of Liturgy which is thanksgiving to almost 200 people including all the pastors of the district.  Whenever we think about a study session on Liturgy, its all about regulations.  But Fr. Shirahama's talk was enlightening to understand what is behind all these liturgy in our Church. 

After lunch together, there was a photo session and a procession for Holy Mother, the Flores de Mayo.  Filipino community is quite large in the district and majority of kids are of theirs.  The gathering was really international.  After the procession from the kindergarten where we had talks and lunch to the Parish, we started Mass at 2 pm.  Readings and songs were prepared both in Japanese and English.  To create a community which overcomes both age and nationality barrier or cultural difference is one of the priorities of this diocese and I should say that the Nagaoka district is trying very hard to create communities of many cultures.  I hope they will continue their effort to build communities with one heart with many faces.

May 24, 2010

Pentecost in Tokamachi

Yesterday was the Pentecost Sunday and it was quite a windy day in Niigata. Well, it would be good to feel the blowing wind on the Pentecost Sunday so that we may be able to imagine how the Holy Spirit blew on the day among disciples. I went to Tokamachi to celebrate the Pentecost Sunday Mass with the community of the Assumption Parish. During the Mass, 3 people received the sacrament of confirmation and 2 kids received their first communion. Since the parish priest of Nagaoka, Fr. Bruno, ofm, visits Tokamachi after he completes Mass in Nagaoka, Sunday Mass in Tokamachi begins at 3 pm. As for yesterday, people started to gather together around 2 pm for the Flores de Mayo procession. Yes, majority of the community in Tokamachi Catholic Church is from Philippines who are married to local Japanese. So yesterday before Mass, several original Japanese Catholics, Filipino mothers, number of their Japanese husbands and their kids made a procession after the statue of Mary. What a international community. All together around 40 people went around inside the Kindergarten since the windy and rainy weather did not permit us to go out.

After the Mass, we went to the Kindergartens hall for a party. There were a dance by a boy who had received his first communion, games and good food. Fr. Bruno suggested mothers to let little ladies wear Yukata dress instead of the traditional white costume for first communion, etc. What impressed me the most was 2 Filipino mothers who wore Japanese traditional Kimono and gave a Japanese dance performance. They have been in Japan for many years and managed to immerse themselves deep into Japanese culture.

I am sure that there must be a lot of problem they face in building a united community for the Tokamachi Church with different nationalities and back grounds. Especially, at this moment, Japanese Catholics are minority in Tokamachi. I would like to ask each one of the community to be compassionate to each other and also try to understand differences of each culture.

May 17, 2010

Confirmation in Takada

Ascension day is celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter in Japan and, therefore, yesterday was the celebration. On that Sunday, 13 people received the sacrament of Confirmation in the Christ the King Parish in Takada. The parish priest, Fr. Mario Canducci, a Franciscan from Italy, always does his best to prepare candidates very well to receive the sacraments every year. Though he is over 75 and preparing for his golden jubilee of ordination this year, he is still energetic in his pastoral activities. I was happy to see several young faces among the 13 candidates yesterday. It will be quite difficult for young kids to continue to come to church after they enter high schools because of extra curriculum activities on Sundays. So Fr. Mario does his best to catch kids just before they are really involved in these activities to prepare for the confirmation. Though they will have difficulties to attend Sunday Masses, the memory of confirmation will remain in their heart, and one day, they may return to the community.

The Confirmation Mass was celebrated by myself, Fr. Mario, Fr. Takayabu, a resident priest and Fr. Ohtaki, the chancellor of the diocese. Fr. Ohtaki was originally baptized in Takada while he was a high school student and was visiting the area for the diocesan business. I hope more young people will follow good example of their senior brother of Takada, Fr. Ohtaki, and join the priesthood in near future. In this regard, I was happy to be with a young boy who performed his duty quite perfectly as a lone altar boy during the ceremony vested in his over sized cassock.

Congratulations for those 13 members who received the sacrament. I am also happy to see among them faces from several countries. God bless you all with his Holy Spirit.

May 9, 2010

Returned from Taiwan

FABC BILA meeting has been finished on Thursday evening with a closing Mass in near by parish in Taoyuan. Mass was attended by both participants of the meeting and local Catholics of the parish who organised a welcome party for us after the Mass. As the time-table of our meeting was so tight, I could not go out from the building where we stayed since our arrival on Monday. So it was good for us to have a chance to be away from the meeting site and be with local people. Also it was good occasion to know the talent of our participants to entertain others. Especially we are all amazed and enjoyed dancing performance of Korean group led by a Sister who is a wonderful dancer.

During the meeting, besides a talk by Bishop Tagle, Sr. Choi Hae Young, RSCJ, a provincial superior of RSCJ sisters in Korea, gave a talk on the title, "Mary, Model of discipleship in the Church." Also the drafting committee worked so hard that we could manage to complete the meeting with a wonderful final statement. The main objectives of the meeting was: to encourage the Church to look Mary as a woman who lived through many of the trying situations that women experience today, and to encourage women to draw courage and inspiration from her, and to provide for the continuing process of awareness of women's role and hence provide a guide to do this program in the home diocese of the participants. In many countries in East Asia, though the majority of the Church community are women, still decisions are made by men.How to encourage women to be involved in the decision making process in Church community would be one of the crucial point we have to seriously look into, including in my diocese.

On Friday, finally released from sitting in a meeting room, we went out to Taipei city for a day tour. Photo above is taken at our first stop, the Museum of World Religions which is run by Buddhist monks. The museum provides information on several major religions in the world and also invite visitors to find the meaning of meditation. A Buddhist nun gave us an introduction talk and invited us to join the vegetarian lunch in the museum cafeteria. In fact, we were surprised to see so many varieties of vegetarian dishes. It seems the cafeteria is also popular among local people. Also we visited the Taiwan National Women's Center after the museum.

Thanks for those who organised the meeting and thanks for our host in Taiwan.

May 6, 2010

Still from Taiwan

FABC meeting is still going on in Taiwan. Today is the final day and we are discussing on the final statement. Though we, East Asians, are quiet and polite to each other normally, we are having quite heated argument, or rather discussion on a draft of the statement. Theologians from India and Taiwan, of course women theologians, are guiding us through the discussion.

By the way, I forgot to mention about the BILA in yesterday's post. BILA stands for Bishops Institute for Lay Apostolate. Since FABC supposed to be a place of learning for bishops in Asia, several meetings are under the title of Bishops Institute so and so.

I just do not want to go into a simple stereotyping but I feel difference of atmosphere of this meeting from other Church meetings I have attended before. Maybe because this meeting is organised mainly by women. Besides several serious discussion sessions and lectures, there are time for prayer, meditation, singing and dancing. Prayer through dancing may not be employed by typical meeting organised mainly by men, right? Well, in any case, I am comfortable to be among these wonderful women in the meeting.

May 5, 2010

FABC BILA meeting in Taiwan

I have been in Taiwan since Monday afternoon to attend a meeting on women in East Asia organized by the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences) office of Laity and Family. It will last till Friday and I will return to Japan on Saturday evening. Japanese delegation is composed of 4 members, a sister, 2 lay women from Tokyo and myself. All together, more than 60 participants are present including several observers from Taiwan. Since the meeting is meant for East Asia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Macao and Hongkong have been duly represented including 4 bishops. The meeting has been held in St.Theresa Activity Center in Taoyuan city near the Taipei International Airport. Bishop John Lee, the local ordinary of the area, is hosting the function since he is also a member of the FABC office of Laity and Family. The president of the office, Bishop Roland Tirona from Philippines is also among us. The theme of the meeting is "Mary, Truly a Women of our times".

Yesterday, bishop Chito Tagle (photo above) of Imus gave a talk on the theme. Since he is one of the most celebrated speaker of Theological topics in Asia at this moment, many people came to the center to listen to his talks. As a former member of the Pontifical Theological Commission, of which Cardinal Ratzinger was the chairman, he presented quite rich and deep understanding of role of Mary and insight for modern world.

Tomorrow, we will discuss about our final statement and will celebrate evening Mass in local Parish.

Apr 30, 2010

Fr. Mitsumori passed away

Rev. Father Francis de Sales Taizo MITSUMORI, the very first Japanese diocesan priest of Niigata, passed away yesterday morning in Niigata at age of 92. A native of Akita, Fr.Mitsumori studied theology in Rome before the WW II and ordained a priest in 1944 in Rome. Because of the war, he could not return to Japan till 1946. As a pioneer Japanese diocesan priest, Fr.Mitsumori immediately became a strong helping hand for several apostolic prefects of Niigata and, from 1962, Bishop Ito who was appointed as the first bishop of newly established Niigata diocese. Fr. Mistumori was a parish priest of the Niigata Cathedral for many years. He retired from active ministry in 2003 at age of 85. I spent sometime with him since he was living in the house behind the bishop's residence for his retirement. We ate together and prayed togeher for sometime. He spent his last 2 years in a retirement house in Aoyama.

Wake keeping will be on 30 April at 7 pm in Niigata Cathedral. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on 1 May at 10 am in Niigata Cathedaral. Kindly remember Father Mitsumori in your prayer. R.I.P.

Apr 25, 2010

Confirmation in Kamo

Today, on the Good Shepherd Sunday, I visited the Christ the Redeemer Parish in Kamo, Niigata for confirmation of 3 people. Since the parish priest, Fr. Tsutomu Sato has been in charge of 2 parishes, Kamo and Shirone, those who received the sacrament today were from both communities, 2 from Kamo and one from Shirone. The Catholic community in Kamo which is 44 years old this year has around 30 regular Sunday Mass attendance. Among them are several members from Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Good Shepherd is calling us to follow him. In the gospel today, Jesus said that " my sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me". His voice is telling us our mission in this life. In fact that is our vocation. We have to try to listen to his voice to discern what we have to pursue in our life.

After the Mass, all the members who attended today's Mass gathered together in a hall for a small party to congratulate those who had received the confirmation. Small community like Kamo has certain advantage to build a strong community. Since there are not so many members, each one of them could know each other very well. So the gathering after Mass today was just like a family gathering.

Apr 19, 2010

Confirmation in Kashiwazaki

Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Easter, 13 people received the sacrament of Confirmation in St.Anthony of Padua Parish in Kashiwazaki, 130km south of Niigata. The parish priest, Fr. Leo Bassi, ofm, though he is already over 80 years old, is one of the most energetic and hard working missionaries in my diocese. As far as I remember, he prepares quite good number of candidates for the sacrament every year. Among these 13 members who received the confirmation yesterday, majority are kids in Junior High Schools, which means they are around 13 to 15 years old. Also among these kids, there are children of Japanese, Filipino and Sri Lankan mothers. Quite international, as usual in my diocese. Particularly for these kids in schools in Japan, attending Mass on Sundays require extra super efforts since school usually organises the Sunday extra curriculum activities such as sports games for their students. So I have to congratulate Fr. Bassi and his team of catechists for their effort to anchor these kids to the Church activities firmly.

For the homily of the confirmation Masses, I have been talking about the meaning of being a mature Catholic. In fact, it is quite difficult to define the actual picture of "maturity" of the person in Catholic faith. I guess there are 3 points to think about.

First and most, and this would be the foundation of our faith, attaining reality in our faith would be the crucial point. We do not believe in Jesus who is in our imagination, nor in a history legend. We do believe in Jesus who is alive. Presence of Jesus has to be real, not a fiction.

Then, based on that reality, we form our faith through the tradition of Catholic teachings. So we have to be acquainted with, say, Catholic Catechism and traditional practice of the Church. Then the third point would be the liturgy. Without celebrating our faith in our community through the liturgy, our faith would be dead. I hope and pray that those who received the sacrament yesterday are ready to be a mature Catholic who feels the real presence of Jesus, learn more about our faith and happy to celebrate the faith with their community in liturgy.

Apr 14, 2010

A-bombed statue of B.V.M. goes to NY in May

The so-called "HIBAKU MARIA", a remain of a statue of the Immaculate Conception in former Cathedral of Nagasaki which was completely destroyed and burned by A-bomb on 9 August, 1945 is going to New York in May and will meet the Secretary General of UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon on 3 May. The statue, now remains only as a burnt head, was found under the rubble of destroyed Cathedral by Fr.Noguchi of Hakodate Trappist who visited the site upon his return from the World War II in October, 1945. In 2005, a small chapel was erected next to the present Cathedral in Urakami, Nagasaki to commemorate 60th anniversary of bombing of Nagasaki to pray for world peace without any nuclear weapons. Archbishop of Nagasaki, Archbishop Joseph Takami, a survivor of the A-bomb, will bring the statue to meet Mr. Ban and others in New York. Prior to the trip to New York, Archbishop will make a pilgrimage with the statue to Guernica to pray for world peace. (Photo above; 3 archbishops of Japan. Archbishop Takami, far left.)

In February, Archibishop Takami and Bishop Misue of Hiroshima made an appeal to world leaders to seriously think about the nuclear weapon free world. (Link to the English version of the message by 2 bishops.) Bishops were prompted to issue the message since the NPT review conference will be held in May. Both Japan and Vatican officials in UN suggested the Archbishop to visit the UN after the trip to Guernica.

Apr 12, 2010

The TESTIGOS performed in Murakami

A Catholic musical, I may say so with full confidence, the "TESTIGOS" has been performed in Murakami city, northern Niigata, on last Saturday afternoon for a general public. The musical was performed by a group from Nagoya called Xavier Angels Company led by an energetic Spanish young man who is a Catholic and a Japanese lady who is not a Catholic. The performance was organised by a local private school, Niigata University of Rehabilitation which was just established on 1st April this year as their commemorative activities for the beginning of the new school. The school is not a Catholic nor Christian school but the musical was 100% Catholic one and the faculty chose the performance knowing this is Christian performance. Yet, according to the president of the school corporation who is a psychiatrist, this performance represents what they have been after in their school formation; providing total relaxation to human body and soul.

The Xavier Angels Company was joined by a local dancing group and a choirs group. More than 600 people including a city mayor of Murakami came to witness this wonderful performance of 10 saints and great people of modern world. These 10 includes Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and St. Maximilian Kolbe. I was so amazed to see non-Christian people enjoying the performance which was filled by quite Catholic ideas, even calling people to be a witness of God. The last song depicting Pope JPII again and again tell the audience "do not be afraid". We should not be afraid to be a real witness of God. We should not be timid messenger of God who are afraid to present the message of God directly. These performers were teaching us important attitude we should make our own.
The Xavier Angels Company will perform the TESTIGOS during the World Expos in Shanghai. God bless their activities.

Apr 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Dear brothers and sisters. Happy Easter !

I hope you also experienced wonderful and spiritually enriched Holy Week. Past few days, Niigata experienced miserable weather of cold winter and the news stories on TV of cheery blossom in elsewhere in Japan seemed like stories of another world. Yet, today, we had a wonderful, beautiful and warm spring day for the Easter celebration, though the cherry blossom is yet to arrive in Niigata.

For today's main Mass at 9:30 am in Niigata Cathedral, around 200 people joined the celebration. During the Mass, a baby girl was baptised. It is good to witness a baptism of new born baby during the Easter celebration. It gives us a real feeling of beginning of new life.

After the Mass, a party was held in a parish hall in which I sung several songs with piano and the parish priest, Fr.Ebe gave a performance of his favorite Japanese flute, Shakuhachi.

Apr 1, 2010

Holy Thursday in Niigata

The Holy Triduum has began and today is the Holy Thursday, a day to commemorate the last supper and the institution of the Holy Communion by Lord Jesus himself. In Niigata diocese, the Chrism Mass has been celebrated on Tuesday and for Sapporo diocese, it was on Wednesday so that majority of priests working in both dioceses were able to join the celebration for them. Some of them had to travel more than 300 km to attend the Mass with their Bishop.

The Mass on Holy Thursday in Niigata was presided by myself at 7 pm today in Niigata Cathedral. Because of aging society in Japan, especially in Niigata city center, attendance of evening liturgy in Niigata has been decreasing for past few years. This evening, though the liturgy is quite important for our spiritual life since the Holy Communion is the center pillar of our Christian faith, we had around 100 faithful to join the liturgy.

After the homily, following the example of the Lord Jesus himself, we had a liturgy of washing feet. I could see that the parish priest had difficulty to find 12 men to be washed. By the way, I remember my days in a parish in Ghana, especially during special liturgy. I will not forget my first experience of the Holy Thursday in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson, Krobo in 1988. When I approached Mr. Amerkudji, then the parish president, he suddenly said it loud that, "Lord do not wash my feet". I did not know how to reply. They were expecting me to enact the scene in the Gospel. What I remember was myself standing in front of my parishioners not knowing what to do next. Good old memory.

By the way in Niigata this evening, quite a number of people stayed in the crypt after the Mass to spend sometime in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The adoration continued till 10 pm.

There will be the Good Friday liturgy at 7 pm tomorrow and the Easter vigil on Saturday at 7 pm. Join us in Niigata Cathedral.

Mar 29, 2010

Ms.Knight visited SAN-YA area in Tokyo

Ms. Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, visited SAN-YA area in Tokyo on Saturday, 27 March, in the afternoon. She was accompanied by Fr. Narui, SVD, the executive director of Caritas Japan, Mr. Tadokoro, the secretary general of CJ and myself. Geographically, the address of "SAN-YA" is not officially existing on a map but is well known area in Tokyo as a town for day laborers. There used to be a number of low-cost inns in the area. Because of prolonged recession, many of these workers lost their daily wages and forced to be homeless. Adding to the poor economic climate in Japan, many of them are now aging and in real need of assistance to survive. Therefore, instead of these low-cost inns, today's SAN-YA has quite a number of newly built old folks homes all over the area. They can not continue to live on a street to receive government subsidy since it requires one to have a real address. Many of these newly established houses by local private inn owners provide aged workers an address to receive the government subsidy and deduct a monthly rent which includes meal service from the money to sustain the business.

We visited the NPO called "SAN-YU-KAI" which means friendship society of San-ya, established in 1984. The NPO runs clinic which provides free medical care and a shelter house. They also conducts counseling service and free lunch. (Photo above: In front of the clinic)

Ms. Knight concluded her 10-day visit of Japan, organised by the foreign ministry of Japan, with visiting the Cathedral of Tokyo archdiocese and left for Rome on Sunday.

This is the Holy Week. There will be the Chrism Mass on Tuesday at 10 am in Niigata Cathedral and on Wednesday at 10:30 am in Sapporo Cathedral. Then Mass on Holy Thursday, the liturgy on Good Friday and the Vigil Mass on Easter (Saturday night) in Niigata Cathedral are all at 7 pm. Then the Easter morning Mass at 9:30 am in Niigata Cathedral. Join us for the celebration.

Mar 24, 2010

Bishop Jinushi celebrated his Golden jubilee

On 22 March in Sapporo, Bishop Peter Jinushi, bishop-emeritus of Sapporo, has celebrated his Golden jubilee of priestly ordination. He was ordained a priest by late bishop Tomizawa on 20 March, 1960 together with Fr. Koyama of the Trappist monastery who celebrated the Golden jubilee with Bishop Jinushi. More than 200 people gathered in the Cathedral, Kita Ichijo and around 30 priests con celebrated the Mass presided by Bishop Jinushi with Fr.Koyama. The Papal Nuncio and I also joined the celebration. (Photo above) Bishop Jinushi requested us not to use the central chair of the Cathedral, which is the bishop's see of Sapporo, so that people feel the see is really vacant.

Also for the Sapporo, Mr. Jin-no, a diocesan seminarian of Sapporo, has been erected as an acolyte on Sunday afternoon in the Cathedral. If God so wishes, he may be ordained a deacon next year. Kindly remember him in your prayer.

Mar 21, 2010

Youth leaders' gathering in Akita

Though the entire number of youth itself in the diocese has been decreasing, there are still several energetic young Catholics who want to organise themselves as one of lay action groups in the diocese. The Seitai Hoshikai Retreat House has been the venue for a 3-day gathering of 12 youth leaders from all over the diocese started yesterday afternoon under supervision of Fr.Kotaro Sakamoto, the associate pastor of Niigata Cathedral. Fortunately for the diocese, at this moment we have around 10 Catholic students in Niigata University, a state-run school, and others in several different tertiary institutions in Niigata. I hope and pray that the group, though a tiny minority they are, would produce good youth leaders for the diocesan activities and also promote good number of vocations for religious life. (Photo above: Some of the youth leaders with Fr. Sakamoto praying for safe drive before leaving Niigata Cathedral around 7 am on Saturday fro Akita)

Mar 19, 2010

Welcome to Japan, Ms. Knight.

The Foreign ministry of Japan has invited Ms. Lesley-Anne Knight, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis based in Vatican within the framework of the promotion of partnership cooperation in 21st century. She is arriving Japan today and will stay till 29. Ms. Knight has been the secretary general of this Catholic international aid agency recognised by the Holy See since 2007. (Photo above. Ms. Knight with Asian delegations on the extreme right)

In the field of actual development and rescue operation in developing countries, Caritas organisations have been a good partner and co-worker of Japanese government. Through her visit of Japan, Caritas and Japanese government will confirm these cooperation and deepen the understanding of ideas for human development. Caritas Japan will also welcome her in our midst and will have an chance to discuss some internal matters with her during the visit.

Mar 15, 2010

Recollection day in Naoetsu Parish

Yesterday, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, I visited Naoetsu Parish in Joetsu city which is 130 km south of Niigata city for a day of recollection for 2 groups of parishioners, one for a Japanese group and the other for an English speaking group. All together more than 60 people attended these 2 recollections. In fact, more than half were for the English one.

Last week I was in Akita for graduation activities of 2 Catholic junior colleges in Akita and spent whole week in the convent of Seitai Hoshikai. On Saturday when I drove back from Akita to Niigata, weather on the road was quite wild so that my black car was soaked not only by rain but also by sea spray since the main highway between Niigata and Akita passes through the coastal area. On Sunday morning by the time to leave for Naoetsu at 6:30 am, I just found my black car no longer black. It was just like a whitewashed car, dirty like something. Keeping your own car clean is one of the best hobby in Japan, I think, and I had to drive this dirty car under beautiful morning sunshine telling others I am a lazy man who does not care about this popular hobby of all in Japan.

Well, the first Japanese Mass began at 9 am in Naoetsu which was attended by around 20 people. The pastor of Naoestsu, Fr. Hubert, OFM, concelebrated the Mass. Since Naoetsu parish has a wonderful organ prayer, Mr. Machiya, with good knowledge of the Gregorian Chant, I had to sing most parts of the Mass, which I love to do any way. After the Mass I gave a 45-minute talk followed by the individual confession, the stations of the Cross, the Benediction and a lunch together.

Around 1:30 pm, English speaking community started to arrive for the day. Majority of them are Filipino ladies married with Japanese. I spoke for 45 minutes again in English about their vocation in Japan as lay missionaries to be witnesses of Gospel in Japanese rural society where traditional Church had not be able to reach out. I know the stories of difficulties which number of them have been experiencing in their international marriages. Sometimes they are not accepted as full members of the family by in-laws. Despite all these difficulties, and for these Church has been trying to be of their help, I still think and believe that God has his own plan for each one of us. Traditional Catholic Church in Japan has put much effort to establish parishes and other institutions in rather big cites in Japan. Because of the strategy, not much has been done to spread the good news to rural villages. In fact, I do not know how we could go into these villages at this moment. Majority of Filipino Catholics who have been married with Japanese are living in rural area. I do believe they have been sent by God to be a witness of the message of God. In fact, they are missionaries in Japan.

Stations of the Cross and individual confession followed and the day was completed with the Holy Eucharist. Photo above: those who joined the English recollection with 2 youngsters who did good job as alter girls.

Mar 6, 2010

Easter poster from the CBCJ

The communication department of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has been providing a poster for Christmas, Easter and for other special occasions so that parish communities and other Catholic institutions could inform and invite general public to visit Catholic Church for the occasion. As for this year's Easter, the department decided not to distribute printed posters but to upload the data file of these posters on their web site. You may choose from 9 different posters and insert your own names of the parish and other messages in it though you are not allowed to save the file with your own original insertion. Try to print your own poster for this year's Easter. Click here for the web site of the CBCJ.

A few days ago, I got a phone call from Ghana, my beloved country. (By the way, the Crown Prince of Japan is visiting Ghana at this moment. He will visit Kenya after Ghana.) Through the conversation, I got both good news and bad news.

The bad news. Fr.Justinus Toda, SVD died on 20 February in Ghana while he was leading a station of the Cross with youth attending a retreat. They organised the station of the Cross out side, on a nearby mountain. When they finished the 11th station, Father Toda did not get up and that was the end of him. Father was only 54 years old. Father Toda was one of the first group of Indonesian confreres assigned to Ghana province. He arrived in Ghana when my term in Ghana was approaching to the end. He was sent to our district to learn the local language and, there, I met him. He was a wonderful and cheerful missionary priest. After so many years, in the end of January this year, I could communicate with him through phone. One evening I got a phone call from a seminarian who was visiting Asutsuare parish in southern Ghana. He told me that the parish priest is Fr. Toda. As soon as we completed our phone conversation, I got yet another call from Ghana. This time it was from Fr.Toda. He found out that the seminarian was speaking with me and he wanted to just greet me. No change of his character. He was cheerful as ever not knowing only a few days later heavenly Father would call him home. R.I.P.

Then the good news. This seminarian, the one who gave me a phone call from Asustuare, will be ordained a priest on 8 August this year as a Divine Word Missionary appointed to Japan. He was a member of the alter boys of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson more than 20 years ago when I was a parish priest of them. I hope to be there in Ghana to ordain Frt. Martin Akwetey Dumas, SVD. Kindly pray for this young missionary to Japan.

Mar 1, 2010

Seminar on migrants in Sapporo

A two-day seminar on migrants organised by the Welcome House, the Sapporo diocesan organisation to support migrants, was held in Sapporo on last Friday and Saturday in cooperation with the Catholic Commission for Migrants, Refugees and Itinerant People headed by Bishop Tani of Saitama. Main theme of the seminar was " The formation of children connected to other countries". Those who have been working for the youth education of children of foreign origin gave reports on their activities in Hokkaido to more than 60 participants from the Tokyo Ecclesiastical Province which comprises Catholic dioceses of Tokyo, Yokohama, Saitama, Niigata, Sendai and Hokkaido. Niigata diocese was represented by 3 delegates led by Fr. Hubert, OFM of Naoetsu who is the chairman of the diocesan committee. On Saturday morning, participants gathered together in the Sapporo Cathedral for Mass presided by myself. After the Mass, Bishop Tani gave a talk on migrant issue and Catholic Church referring to the instruction of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, "Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The love of Christ towards migrants)" which had been prepared by the then chairman of the Council, late Cardinal Hamao . Thanks for those who prepared the seminar, especially the staff member of the Welcome House. Photo above is Bishop Tani giving his talk.