Dec 29, 2011

Otsuchi volunteer base completed

On 13 December, more than 60 people including 3 bishops, Bishop Hiraga of Sendai, Bishop Hamaguchi of Oita and myself, and more than 10 priests gathered together in a former business hotel in town of Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture to celebrate opening of a volunteer base for Nagasaki ecclesiastical province.  Bishop Hamaguchi, who is the one in charge of volunteer operation of Nagasaki ecclesiastical province, was a main celebrant of the dedication Mass of the volunteer base which used to be a business hotel owned by a Catholic from Morioka city.  On 11 March, town of Otsuchi was one of so many coastal communities which were hit by massive Tsunami.  The town lost more than 800 people including their town mayor and still more than 500 people are missing. 

The business hotel was also hit by tsunami and, though first and second floor were submerged into water, building structure remained intact.  So it was used by volunteers from nearby Kamaishi Catholic Church as center of activities immediately after the disaster.  Then when Japanese bishops decided to ask Nagasaki ecclesiastical province with 5 dioceses to concentrate their relief activities in central and north coastal area of Iwate, the owner of the hotel, Mr. Michimata, offered the building to be used by the Nagasaki team as their base of activities. 

Archbishop Takami of Nagasaki appointed Fr. Furuki, SDB, who had been an assistant secretary general of Nagasaki diocese to be in charge of the project to rehabilitate the hotel and make it ready to be a base of volunteer activities.  It took longer than usual since it was quite difficult to find professional assistance to rehabilitate the building as contractors are busy helping victims.

The base is now standing out of no-where.  It used to be surrounded by many buildings but today it is standing almost alone.  Fr. Furuki wrote once in his report that when evening comes the base stands in darkness as torch light of hope since it is only a very few building with light at this moment.

I joined the dedication Mass with Mr. Tadokoro, the director general of Caritas Japan.  Caritas Japan is fully supporting the project and will continue to be with volunteers of Otsuchi base.

Dec 28, 2011

Christmas greetings

Merry Christmas!

Sorry for this belated Christmas greetings.  I had a wonderful Christmas celebration with parishioners of Niigata Cathedral.  I presided over 24th 8pm Mass and 25th 10am Mass.  It was terribly cold in Niigata but many people including quite a number of non-Christians joined the community for the celebration.

Any how, I wish all of you a very merry Christmas. First and most , on behalf of Niigata and Sapporo dioceses, I would like to thank all of you for your dedicated service and contribution to Church activities throughout the year 2011, especially your willingness to do something for victims of March 11 disaster.  Thank you so much. As for supporting these victims, we have to continue to remember them in our prayer and maintain our willingness to be with them.  Next year, 2012, Niigata diocese is celebrating 100 anniversary of establishment.  So I ask you to pray for Niigata diocese.  Also kindly pray for Sapporo diocese so that they may get their new bishop as soon as possible.

Then on behalf of Caritas Asia, I would like to thank all of you for your wonderful cooperation and contribution for activities of Caritas Asia throughout year 2011 which, we may say, a year of
continuous natural calamities.  I hope and pray that the light which will be shinning in darkness tonight as we celebrate the mystery of incarnation of Word of God may reach all the people affected by these disasters through our work and prayer.

Also on behalf of Caritas Japan, I would like to thank you sincerely for your kind words and contribution for victims of March 11 disaster in Japan.  We are all grateful to your significant ways to show your solidarity with us. Kindly continue to remember us in your prayer.

Caritas Asia finally appointed Mr. Eleazar Gomez from Philippines and a member of NASSA as our next regional coordinator.  He will take his post by 1 February in Bangkok.  Fr. Bonnie Mendes, our present regional coordinator, will be with the office in Bangkok till the end of February. I welcome Mr. "Zar" Gomez sincerely and thank Fr. Bonnie for his dedicated service for all of us.  I am sure we all have more chance to work with Fr. Bonnie in Caritas activities.

I wish you a Happy New Year.


Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
President, Caritas Asia & Caritas Japan
Bishop of Niigata
Apostolic administrator of Sapporo

Dec 20, 2011

New regional coordinator for caritas asia appointed

Yesterday morning, on 19 December, the regional commission of Caritas Asia met in the office of CA in Bangkok to conduct an interview with 3 shortlisted candidates for the post of regional coordinator of Caritas Asia.

After the interview and due discussion, the regional commission has come to a decision to choose one of candidates as next regional coordinator.

I am happy to announce that Mr. Eleazar Gomez, known as "Zar", is our next regional coordinator to succeed Fr. Bonnie Mendes who generously agreed to extend his term of office to offer his service to Caritas Asia.

Mr. Eleazar Gomez is from Philippines and currently working with NASSA, Caritas Philippines. After due process, we expect him to take his post by 1st February, 2012.  Fr. Bonnie will be with us until the end of February.

I would like to thank Fr. Bonnie (photo above) for his generosity to work for us for much longer than what had been expected. I am sure we will have more chance to work with Fr. Bonnie in Caritas programs. I welcome Mr. Gomez and pray for abundant blessings of Almighty Father over his new job as our regional coordinator.

Dec 12, 2011

The Niigata centenary crucifix relay got rolling

As you may have already read about it on my previous post on 27 November, to commemorate 100 anniversary of establishment of Niigata diocese in 2012, a crucifix relay had commenced on 20 November in Niigata Cathedral.  Two crucifix had been blessed and sent out to go around all parishes in the diocese and will return to the Cathedral on 7 and 8 October next year.  Actual relay got rolling on 4 December when 25 parishioners of Niigata Cathedral led by Fr. Ebe, the parish priest, made fraternal visit to neighboring Hanazono parish with one of two crucifix.  The crucifix was brought into the Hanazono chapel at the beginning of Mass by Mr. Saito of Niigata Cathedral and placed next to the main alter.  Then Fr. Fernando, a parish priest of Hanazono, blessed the crucifix and celebrated Mass with Fr. Ebe which was followed by a tea party.  One of the main purpose of this relay is to develop mutual and fraternal relationship among Catholic communities in the diocese so that this kind of actual exchange of members are very important.  The second crucifix is traveling to Sanjo on 18 December.

The crucifix is travelling with a note book (Photo above).  Every one of the parish community where the crucifix are stopping are welcome to leave your own comment.  It will be displayed at the end of the relay during the centennial diocesan congress on 7 and 8 October in Niigata.

Nov 30, 2011

Visitation of the convent of Poor Clares in Takada@Joetsu

After the Priest Senate meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Niigata Cathedral, I had to travel to Takada in Joetsu city.   It was 2 hours drive through Hokuriku motor way to south from Niigata.   I had to travel to Takada for the official visitation of the convent of Poor Clares. There are a community of Poor Clares Sisters in Joetsu which was invited by my predecessor, late Bishop Sato who was a Franciscan.  The community of Takada in Joetsu is under a local bishop and according to their statute, the local bishop has to make an official visit every 3 years.  During the visitation, an election of mother superior and her assistant has to be conducted and the bishop has to be present with the community.   Also before the election, I have to interview all the members of the community.   So these are my official duties as Bishop of Niigata.
There are only 7 members in the community and 2 out of these 7 are residing outside the convent because of their age and health.   So I had to meet with only 5 members. It is a small community.

Today Sr. Gushiken was elected as mother superior of the community and present superior, Sr.Ohmi was elected as an assistant.  They are a small community but obediently offer daily prayers for us to support the apostolate of Niigata diocese.  Their prayers are powerful.   So it is also our duty to pray for them, especially for their vocation.

 Photo above is a front view of the convent and below is inside the convent. Of course, this is a section open to public.

Nov 27, 2011

Feast day of Christ the King @ Niigata Cathedral

This year's Christ the King feast was on 20 November according to the Catholic liturgy calendar and it was the last Sunday of the year before we begin a new cycle from first Sunday of Advent on 27 November.  Our Cathedral in Niigata has been dedicated to Christ the King and, thus, 20 November was a feast day for the Cathedral community.  As usual, I celebrated a Mass in which one young student originated from Akita has been confirmed and a 8-year-old boy received his first communion.

There were much more to celebrate during the Mass.  As I have been celebrating my own silver jubilee of priestly ordination this year, I had been contemplating how to organise.  Then March 11 happened.  Since there are so many people still struggling to restore their normal lives after the disaster, I decided not to organise a big party as such.  So I decided to offer Mass of thanksgiving on the feast of Christ the King with the community.  Parish community was so good to organise a small lunch party after the Mass in parish hall for me and those who received sacraments.  Photo above is a sign written by one of parishioners to congratulate me.  Thanks a lot.

Also after the Mass, 2 crucifix were blessed and sent out to go around parishes in the diocese.  Our diocese is celebrating 100 anniversary of establishment as the apostolic prefecture and 50 years as the diocese in 2012.  So the planning committee of the celebration decided to organise a crucifix relay.  2 identical crucifix will visit all parishes in the diocese starting from 20 November and will come back to the cathedral in October next year during the Diocesan convention.  The crucifix will travel with a note book and members of parish communities may write their own message for the anniversary celebration to enforce unity among the community of the diocese. 

Nov 23, 2011

The 100th ExCo of Caritas Internationalis @ Rome

Immediately after the Japanese Korean Bishops' meeting in Sendai, I traveled to the eternal city to attend a meeting of Caritas Internationalis (CI) for a few days.  The headquarter of CI is located within the Palazzo San Calisto in Trastevere area just adjacent to a beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere.  The Palazzo is a part of the Vatican territory and several offices of Holy See has offices within.

The meeting was the Executive Committee of Caritas Internationalis which is chaired by its president, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras.  Caritas is celebrating its 60th anniversary of foundation this year and this meeting was the 100th session of the Executive Committee which acts as the highest decision making body of Caritas Internationalis between its General Assemblies.  I attended the meeting as the President of Caritas Asia which is, at this moment, according to the present CI Statute, one of 7 Vice Presidents of the CI.  Asia was represented by delegates from Indonesia and Sri Lanka.  The regional coordinator of Caritas Asia, Fr. Bonnie, could not attend the meeting because of Visa difficulties.  All together, more than 25 members attended the meeting representing regions of Europe, Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, North America, Oceania and Asia.

The ExCo had intensive discussion to finalise the revised text of the Statute and Internal rules, budget for 2012 and action plan for next 4 years. The meeting also invited Bishop Marcelo S├ínchez Sorondo, Chancellor of Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who addressed members of the ExCo on the economic crisis which has been causing tremendous difficulties over people's lives in world today.

The new Statute has been approved during the ExCo and will be submitted to Holy See for its approval.  Once it is approved, it may change several key structures of the CI executive body and I may not continue as the Vice President any more, though I will remain as the President of Caritas Asia and also as a member of the renewed ExCo.  We will see when it will be given approval of Holy See.

This is my second time to join the ExCo of CI.  Before I became bishop, I was a member of the ExCo from 1999 for one term of 4 years representing East Asia.  While I was serving for my second term as member of ExCo, I was appointed as bishop in 2004 and Fr. Daisuke Narui, SVD, the present director of Caritas Japan, took over from me.  This time, I could feel much more at home to attend the meeting and, though it was not easy to follow the discussion and express my opinion in English, enjoyed being there.  The present ExCo is filled with quite positive atmosphere of friendly exchange of opinions and cooperation.  Well, as a "good and typical" Japanese, I was quiet and listening.  During the meeting, one may use one of 3 official languages of the confederation which are English, Spanish and French.  In fact,there are quite a number of members who are fluent in all these 3 languages.  Also the executive officers of the CI, such as a president or a secretary general, have to be fluent in these 3 languages.  Though the professional simultaneous translations are provided during the meeting, and which also guarantees to finish a daily session at 6 pm when translators go home, it is not easy for me to just follow the flow of discussion through English translation.

It was beautiful autumn days in Rome during the meeting and I enjoyed morning walk to the Pallazo along Tevere river.  Next meeting of ExCo will be in May, 2012.

Nov 10, 2011

17th Japan Korea exchange meeting of Catholic Bishops@Sendai

Catholic Bishops of Japan and Korea meets once a year in either country for exchange meeting.  As for this year, it was turn of Japan.  Originally we planned to organise the meeting in Kanazawa, Nagoya diocese to learn more about Takayama Ukon, a Japanese Samurai and Daimyo who died in exile in Philippines during 16th century's persecution period.  Japanese Catholic Church is working hard to have him beatified soon.

Then 11 March happened.  We had decided to organise this year's meeting in Sendai so that both Japanese and Korean Bishops could visit the disaster affected area to share our prayer for victims together.

The meeting started with report by Fr. Kanda, the secretary general of a team of the All Japan Support Project for Sendai Diocese, on the relief operation by entire Catholic Church in Japan.  Catholic Church of Korea was one of the very first Catholic Communities to send us messages of solidarity and also donation for victims.  Bishop Hiraga of Sendai expressed his gratitude to Korean Bishops.  Then there was also a report by Korean Bishops on the issue of the Four Major Rivers Project in Korea for which Korean Bishops have expressed their opposition.  After these reports, new Nuncio to Japan, Archbishop Joseph Chennoth joined with bishops for dinner.

For second day, there were lectures on accident in Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant by a lay specialist, and presentation on biological theology by Korean Theologian.  After lunch, bishops traveled to Ishinomaki by bus to offer prayer for victims and celebrateed Holy Eucharist in Ishinomaki Parish.  Nuncio led a prayer and Archbishop Ikenaga joined to offer flowers for victims on top of a hill overlooking entire town of Ishinomaki which had been hit badly by Tsunami. (Photo above)  During the Mass, Nuncio presented a Latin letter introducing him to Japanese Bishops written by Cardinal Secretary of State.

Prior to the travel to Ishinomaki, Nuncio made a courtesy call to the Mayor of Sendai.  I joined him to meet the Mayor.  I was happy to be there because the Mayor praised the operation of Caritas Japan and show her appreciation to Catholic Community in Japan and all over the world.

Today, after the meeting was concluded, Japanese Bishops made a message public on the issue of Nuclear Power Generation.  The message is against the Nuclear Power Generation and asking for immediate end for it to preserve life which is a gift from God.  Bishops said that it is a moral issue and we have to choose a way to be responsible to all the creature which have been entrusted to us by God.  Also we have to fulfill our moral obligation for future generation.  We can not make nuclear waste which we can not handle as our legacy for future generation.  It is immoral.

The message will be translated into English soon.  Mean time you may read this article in UCAN.

Oct 31, 2011

Pilgrimage to Lourdes

I have just returned from 10 days pilgrimage with 69 people to France and Italy from 18 to 28 October organised by Niigata diocese.  It was to commemorate 100th anniversary of the diocese, which had been established in 1912 as an Apostolic Vicariate and in 1962 as a diocese, and also as thanksgiving for my Silver jubilee of priestly ordination.  We also wanted to show our gratitude to Holy Father for his donation and prayer for victims of March 11 disaster.

Our first stop was Lourdes for 2 days.  I wanted to visit Lourdes by all means since my first assignment in Ghana was a priest in charge of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson, Krobo in present Koforidua diocese in 1987. Oosonson has its own Grotto and the parish was the pilgrimage site for faithful of Krobo deanery.  Every December, Osonson organises December 8 Marian pilgrimage for 3 days which attracts thousands of people to Osonson.  So I wanted to visit the "real" grotto in Lourdes.

On our first day, it was raining and very cold.  But because of this rather unfortunate weather, not so many pilgrims were there in front of the Grotto.  So our people did not have to wait too long to take a bath and were able to stay long within the Grotto to pray. 

We were allowed to celebrate Holy Eucharist in the Crypt on first day.  I was joined by 2 priests, Fr. Ohtaki of Niigata and Fr. Hayakawa of Nagoya.  I shared my story with Holy Mother that how she had tried to keep me in close contact with her despite my rather unwillingness to be close with her.  As a minor seminarian, I was always quite reluctant to return to seminary after classes to join Rosary prayer time before sports activities.  My attitude did not change much as major seminarian.  I have to confess that I was not so serious about reciting Rosary as such.  Then, for my great surprise, I was appointed as a priest in charge of a parish with famous grotto of the area and strong group of Legion of Mary and Rosary Crusade.  After 7 years in the parish, I returned to Japan and again a Rosary prayer group asked me to be their chaplain saying that they were praying for priest vocation.  As one in seminary formation, I could not say no to be their chaplain.  Then after some years, I was appointed as a Bishop of the diocese which includes Akita where miraculous events happened in 70's with a Marian Statue.  So Holy Mother is always trying to keep me in the place where I can not ignore praying Rosary.

Lourdes was a silent and holy place with a lot of natural beauty.  I hope I may be able to visit Lourdes again and stay for a bit longer than this time.    

Oct 17, 2011

Confirmation in KAMEDA in Niigata

I made an official visitation of KAMEDA Parish in Niigata city on 16 October and celebrated a Sunday Mass together with the parish community.  During the Mass, 5 people received the sacrament of confirmation.  KAMEDA town is well known in all over Japan by the head office of KAMEDA SEIKA, a confectionery company for rice crackers and others sweets.  The parish community is small with around 30 Sunday Mass attendance but the community is full of family spirit.  So as usual, I was invited to join their Saturday diner party in a parish hall and drink Sake with them.

Also KAMEDA parishioners made news a few years ago when they had managed to built their new chapel through their own contributions.  Catholics in Japan were surprised because such a small community had been able to contribute to built a new building for their chapel.

Congratulations for those who received the sacrament and thank you for the community for your wonderful hospitality.

By the way, I will travel to France and Italy for 10 days from 18 October with more than 70 people for pilgrimage to commemorate the 100th anniversary of establishment of Niigata diocese.  I will report the trip after my return on 28 October.

Till then, you may also go to this link of Caritas Internationalis to read my interview on Tsunami disaster.   

Oct 14, 2011

Manila receives its new head pastor

Holy Father, last night, accepted resignation submitted by Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales of Manila, Philippines.  Cardinal was already 79 years old.  Then Holy Father appointed Bishop Antonio Tagle of Imus diocese as new archbishop of Manila.

Archbishop-elect was born in 1957 and well known as talented theologian and good speaker.  Also he has been a member of Holy See's International Theology Commission which was once headed by then Cardinal Ratzinger.  Above photo is taken in Taiwan in May, 2010 during a workshop organised by FABC.  I attended his talks several times.  He has special talent to explain extremely difficult matter in easiest language. Congratulations, Archbishop-elect Tagle.

Oct 9, 2011

Sapporo district held its assembly

Sapporo district held its assembly called "Shito-shoku Taikai (Assembly for apostolates)" on Sunday October 2 at Fuji Women's University in downtown Sapporo.  The Sapporo district is the biggest in number of faithful among 6 districts of Sapporo diocese since the district is comprised of 20 parishes in the capital city of Sapporo and surroundings.

Usually an international Mass is organised a week before on the Mission Sunday together with several fun events in Kita Ichijo Cathedral parish.  However, for this year, the district decided to combine the international Mass and the Assembly Mass and organised the event as meeting place for both Japanese and migrant Catholics in Sapporo area.  The theme of the assembly was "Let's get together!"

At the beginning of the assembly, I was invited as a lecturer to give a talk on our experience in Shinjo in Yamagata prefecture where Filipino community worked together with their families and 2 local Japanese Catholics to establish a parish in October 2010.  I shared a story of one of their leaders in Shinjo who struggle for more than 20 years after she migrated to Japan to get married with a Japanese farmer to find their own place for worship.  Because of her eagerness to go to Church on Sundays which supposed to be a resting day, her neighbours started to ask her a question.  "Are you not able to live without going to Church?"  Her enthusiasm to visit Church made others to feel that she was kind of different.  So they wanted to know why she wants to go to Church on holidays.  After days of hard work in farm, she should take a day of rest.  In stead of resting, she struggle to go to Church.  So people wanted to know her motivation.

As Catholic Church in Japan does not have sufficient outposts in rural villages, the presence of so many Filipino Catholics 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.  That question by a neighbor of the leader of the community is quite significant.  "Are you not able to live without going to Church?"  We also want to be asked the same question by others.  We want to be witnesses of Gospel and that is the mission by the Lord to all of us, Christians.  In fulfilling this mission in Japan, God has his own plan to proclaim his good news in Japan.  And our beloved brothers and sisters from other countries are missionaries to be sent to places traditional church could not reach in Japan.

During the international Mass, several readings and general intersessions were in different languages.  Beautiful kids from several countries came up to the front for offertory and songs in several languages were sung.

After the Mass, during lunch time, for our great surprise, a VIP guest suddenly appeared in front of us in person of "President Obama" of the USA together with his strong security police force.  He greeted us and, of course, shared a Maccha Ice Cream with us which he had enjoyed in Kamakura.  It was a perfect performance organised by the International community of the district.  Thank you for your wonderful performance.  

Oct 3, 2011

President Aquino visited Ishinomaki

On 26 September, President Benigno Aquino of Philippines visited city of Ishinomaki in Sendai diocese.  Ishinomaki is one of many coastal cities which was hit by Tsunami on 11 March.  The president was met by the city mayor and taken around to see the disaster hit area of the city.  Then he was taken to Catholic Parish in Ishinomaki where more than 170 Filipinos were waiting for him together with the parish priest, Fr. Aizu of Sendai diocese.

The president was welcomed by kids of Ishinomaki Catholic Kindergarten and escorted by Fr. Aizu to a KG hall.  There he delivered speech to gathering Filipinos from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima to encourage them to overcome this difficult time in Japan after the disaster.  Majority of these Filipinos have invited to come to Japan to be married with Japanese.  Before the disaster happened,  many of them could not reach Catholic Church since they had to struggle hard everyday including Sundays to support their new families in Japan.  Majority of those family members are not Catholics or Christians.  As wives and mothers of these families in Japan, it was difficult them to take time to come to Church on Sundays.  So, according to Fr. Aizu, the parish priest, he did not know there were so many resident Filipinos in the area till 11 March this year.  However, after the disaster, Filipino mothers started to gather at the parish since they could find peace in their mind and heart only in Catholic Church.  Immediately after the disaster, as Fr. Aizu realised there were so many Filipinos around, he started to organise parishioners to support them and also respond to the needs of Filipino community.

The president even spent more than 20 minuets in private with Fr. Aizu to listen to the real situation of Filipino community in the area.  Sendai diocese is preparing to support these migrant catholics who were affected by the disaster by sending a pastoral team which includes Filipino priest to the area.

Sep 25, 2011

Bishop MAEDA ordained for Hiroshima

Hiroshima has a new bishop!  World well known city as city of Peace, Hiroshima diocese received its new chief pastor on 23 September in person of Bishop Thomas Aquinas Manyo MAEDA.  His consecration Mass was presided over by Bishop MISUE, a retiring bishop of Hiroshima, and assisted by archbishop Ikenaga of Osaka and archbishop Takami of Nagasaki.  It was attended by more than 2,000 people.  Majority of congregation in the Cathedral of Hiroshima were from other dioceses, mainly from Nagasaki diocese since Bishop Maeda is originally from there.  In fact, 3 consecutive bishops, Noguchi, Misue and present Maeda are all from Nagasaki diocese.  More over, both Bishops Misue and Maeda were a secretary general of Japanese Bishops' Conference.  Majority of congregation from Hiroshima witnessed the august event in a hall of the nearby Elisabeth University of Music run by Jesuit.

Bishop Maeda's motto is "non ministrari sed ministrare" which means " not to be served but to serve".  Bishop Maeda, 62, was born in town of Chuchi in Goto island where several priests including late archbishop Shimamoto of Nagasaki came from.  He is well known of his gentle smile and also his deep interest in Japanese traditional culture and fishing.  You may find from his coat of arms fishing net which he intentionally put there to express his feelings which is same as disciples; because of your word, I will cast my net. (Explanation in Japanese in the photo above)

Congratulations for Bishop Maeda.  Also we would like to show our deepest gratitude to retiring Bishop Misue.

Sep 17, 2011

Six months have passed

Six months have passed since 11 March when massive earthquake and unimaginable tsunami hit northeastern Japan and took around 20,000 precious human lives away.  Ecumenical prayer services were organised in several cities in Japan including one organised in our Cathedral in Niigata.

Still so many people are unable to return to normal life and staying in temporary housings.  Those from Fukushima nuclear power plant area are even unable to clear their own houses after they were hit by tsunami because quite a lot of towns are within the evacuation zone.  Catholic Church has been actively working for those affected people especially in Sendai Diocese.  Caritas Japan has been cooperating with Sendai Diocese since 16 March and running the Sendai Diocese Support Center which coordinates volunteers who have been sent to coastal parishes in Iwate, Miyagi.  Entire Catholic Church in Japan has also started its effort to support victims.  Each of 3 ecclesiastical provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki are opening their respective bases in the area to send volunteers to support local efforts to rehabilitate.  Bishop Hiraga of Sendai has issued a pastoral letter on 11 September to announce that the diocese will continue its effort to support people through the Sendai Diocese Support Center till March, 2012.  But he also believe that it may take many more years for people to return to normal life so that he will reflect and reorganise the activities of the SDSC every 6 month.

In Niigata on 11 September at 3 pm, more than 70 people joined the prayer service presided over by me.  Rev. Pastor Obuchi of Niigata Shinanomachi Church delivered his homily.  Similar kind of ecumenical prayer service were held all over Japan.

Since the time of the disaster, I received quite a number of request for interview from abroad, especially from Catholic medias.  One same question has been asked by many which I do not have exact answer.  Many have asked me why Japanese were so calm after the disaster, even queueing patiently to buy food stuff in remaining stores.  Why there were no riots?  I do not know.  Some say it is because of Japanese culture.  Some say it is because Japanese high standard of public moral.  Some say it is because Japanese do not want to act differently from others.  I really do not know the real reason but one thing I can say is that we, Japanese, should learn something out of this experience.  Our society in general had been loosing sense of public morality or sense of helping each other.  We have to get these moral sense back into our society out of this experience.

Sep 3, 2011

Fr. Dumas has finally arrived.

Fr. Martin Akwetey Dumas, SVD, has finally arrived in Niigata on 26 August to stay with me for a few days.  I intentionally used a word "arrived" though his present appointment as a missionary of the Society of the Divine Word is learning Japanese language in Nagoya, since he was one of my faithful Mass servants (alter boy) in parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Osonson, Ghana, 30 years ago when I was a priest in charge of them.

I was appointed as a priest in charge of Osonson in June, 1987 whose duty was to take pastoral responsibilities of Osonson parish and its 22 out-stations.  I was alone to live in Osonson for 5 years since there were no missionaries to be allowed to enter Ghana for several years at that time.  Therefore, Catechists, Christian Mothers and Alter boys were strong hands to help me in my pastoral duties.  Father of Fr. Dumas is a cathecist and was one of my strongest partners.  Fr. Dumas himself was also member of the Alter boys group and accompanied me to visit out-stations quite often.

Quite a number of boys went to seminary to try to pursue their vocations to be priests and Martin was the one to be a priest.  I went to ordain him in Ghana last year in August.  While he was in the SVD seminary in Ghana, he contacted me to express his desire to work in Ghana.  He wanted to come to the country where his former parish priest came from.  So he made it and he made to "arrive" at my house in Niigata.

I took him to Tokamachi parish on 28 August for the Confirmation Mass.  Photo above is taken after the Mass with members of the parish.  As you can see from the photo, majority of the members of Tokamachi are from Philippines.  They have married with Japanese for sometime already and have been good mothers and wives.  We have their husbands and children to fill our chapel.  Several husbands have been baptised already.  We really have to thank God for sending these "missionaries" from other countries to Japan.

Aug 25, 2011

Assumption of Mary at Niigata Cathedral

On 15 August, Monday at 10 am, a feast day of Assumption of Mary was celebrated with Holy Eucharist in Niigata Cathedral which was followed by a BBQ party under very hot sun.  People has to celebrate shinning sun of hot summer in this area where they have to endure long and cold winter.  As I have mentioned below, 15 August is also the final day for the 10 days for Peace as the memorial day of the Pacific War (WWII) in Japan.  The Mass and the BBQ party were joined by our English Mass community in Niigata also (Photo above with some of the members of English Mass community.  I am wearing a T shirt from Kenya since it was much hotter than Nairobi)  Following is an excerpt of my homily during the Mass.

"Let us be aware that love and sharing are not faraway ideals but the road to enduring peace; the peace of God"  (From the Peace message of JPII in Hiroshima, 1981)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Catholic Church in Japan has designated 10 days between Hiroshima memorial day to the last day of the WWII through the memorial day of Nagasaki as 10 days of prayer for Peace.  This practice had started after the visitation of the late Pope John Paul II to Japan in 1981.  Holy Father visited Japan as a pilgrim of peace and left with powerful message for world peace in Hiroshima.  In the message Holy Father repeated several times that "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future."  Inspired by his message, Bishops of Japan decided to start the 10 days of prayer for peace every summer to "remember the past" and commit ourselves again and again "to the future".

I am mentioning this because this year, 2011, supposed to be the 30th anniversary of the visit by Holy Father and also of the Hiroshima Peace Message.  At the beginning of this year, the Social Concern Committee of the Japanese Bishops Conference was planning to organize the 10 days of prayer for peace this year as one to commemorate the Hiroshima Peace Message and awaken ideals for world peace among people in Japan.

There came the 11 March.  Massive earthquake hit Tohoku area and Tsunami took so many people's lives at once.  Since then, entire Japanese society was overtaken by the aftermath of the disaster and talking about world peace does not make any impact over people's mind any more.  So we shelved the plan to organize the special activities to commemorate the 30th anniversary.

By the time when we started this year's 10 days, I went through the message of Holy Father again and found this passage.

"Your young hearts have an extraordinary capacity for goodness and love; put them at the service of your fellow human beings."

This is it, I thought.  Since the day one of the disaster, so many people from all over Japan and outside Japan have been rushing to Tohoku area as volunteers to help victims.  Catholic Church, too, opened a Sendai Support Center to organise and send volunteers to coastal parishes to help local victims.

What we are witnessing every day is exactly the realization of this word of Holy Father;
"Your young hearts have an extraordinary capacity for goodness and love; put them at the service of your fellow human beings."

In the same message Holy Father said that "let us be aware that love and sharing are not faraway ideals but the road to enduring peace, the peace of God."
This disaster is giving us chance to reconsider the real meaning of Peace, peace of God.  Peace is not just that there are no war or no conflict.  But the real peace situation is the realization of the world as God desires it should be.  The world have to be in the order of God.

The perfect world is also described in the Magnificat.  We have to be humble in front of power of God.  We have to support each other.  We should overcome any kind of discrimination.  Love and sharing are the road to enduring peace, the peace of God.

Aug 7, 2011

Hiroshima and Nagasaki; The 10 days for Peace

Inspired by the peace message delivered by Blessed John Paul II in Hiroshima in 1981, Catholic Church in Japan has designated 10 days between Hiroshima memorial day which is 6 August to the memorial day of the end of WWII which is 15 August as special period of prayer for peace.  This period also includes the memorial day of Nagasaki which is 9 August.  The day when an atomic bomb blasted over 350 thousand people in Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945, it was a very hot and shiny day.  More than 140 thousand people lost their lives by single bomb blast.  Every year on 6 August, public memorial service has been held in the peace memorial in front of the remaining building which is now called the atomic bomb dome (photo).  Catholic diocese of Hiroshima also organises its own peace memorial service during this period.  Nagasaki archdiocese is also preparing their own peace memorial service on and around 9 August.

The president of Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan, Archbishop Jun Ikenaga, SJ, Archbishop of Osaka, has issued his message for this year's 10 days for Peace.  You may read his message in English.  Click and follow the link.

In Niigata diocese, the Justice and Peace commission headed by Fr. Tsutomu Sato has already organised a study session on human rights on 31 July in Niigata Cathedral for this year's Peace Memorial activity in Niigata.  I will also preside over the Mass on 15 August in the Cathedral and will pray for the World Peace.  Mass will begin at 10 am on 15 August in Niigata Cathedral and followed by BBQ party.  You are welcome to join us.

Today, 7 August, I have been  to Takada parish for confirmation.  14 people received the sacrament.  Among them 11 were young boys and girls in junior high schools.  The parish priest, Fr. Mario Canducci, OFM, has been on sick leave for sometime and been staying in Tokyo OFM house in Seta.  However, he was given permission by his doctor to return to his parish for a month before he leaves for his home leave and, therefore, celebrated the confirmation Mass with us today. (Photo: Fr. Mario is my right side)  It was good to see his smiling face.  Because of his absence, parish council president asked the congregation to take responsibility to guide those 14 members preparing for the sacrament.  Then one lady volunteered to teach catechism to them.  Wonderful collaboration by the congregation.

I am leaving for Bangkok this evening for 2 days for a meeting of Caritas Asia.  I will return on Wednesday.

Jul 30, 2011

Pilgrimage to Mexico

On the occasion of the silver jubilee of priestly ordination of both Bishop Tani of Saitama and myself, we thought it fitting to organise a pilgrimage to give thanks in prayer.  Both of us were ordained priest in 1986.  So we decided to visit Mexico and Cuba.  Of course our main purpose was to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico city.  The pilgrimage which was joined by 16 other people lasted for 10 days from 13 July.

As we were planning the pilgrimage, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit a part of Japan and both of us have been involved with rescue and rehabilitation operation since then.  So we were wondering whether we should cancel the trip or we should go ahead.  I thought it better to go there to visit the shrine and pray for the eternal rest for all the victims and also for quick recovery of people in the disaster hit area.  So we did.

The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was huge area with 3 wonderful church buildings.  The smallest one is located on  top of a hill where the Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego in 9 December, 1531.  St. Diego was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in 2002 in this shrine while Holy Father was in his 5th visit to Mexico.  At the foot of the hill, a massive basilica was built with stones but had been inclined to one side because of  poor land quality.  Then a new modern basilica was built next to the old basilica.  In this new Basilica, one could see a cope of St. Juan Diego over the main alter in which a beautiful image of Our Lady is still clearly seen.  We were allowed to say Mass in a small chapel on the second floor where we could see the image just in front of us.  Thank God that we were given this wonderful time to pray in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Jul 12, 2011

"All Japan" Catholics to support Sendai diocese

Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ) had decided to mobilize entire dioceses in Japan to support disaster stricken Sendai and Saitama diocese for their rehabilitation efforts by sending volunteers and donations.  Bishops also decided to respond to the request by Bishop Hiraga of Sendai to assign 6 priests to assist pastoral care of the Sendai diocese which had been suffering from shortage of priests for sometime.

CBCJ had establish a team to coordinate this effort to support Sendai and Saitama and appointed me to be in charge of the operation since I am also a president of Caritas Japan.  Bishops had assigned Fr. Kanda of Osaka as my assistant and Mr. Hamaguchi of Osaka as the secretary.  Since the end of March, the team has been coordinating rescue efforts of all the diocese through e-mail's mailing list system.

On 11 July, exactly 4 months after the earthquake, a very first meeting of the "All Japan" team of Catholic Dioceses was held in Sendai Cathedral beginning with memorial Mass said by Bishop Hiraga.  40 people from all the 16 dioceses in Japan gathered together for a meeting in the afternoon.  Since this was the first time and we were in short of time, we just managed to share our own experience of past 4 months and also to listen to the story and plea of Sendai diocese.  Now we know each other well and decided to continue to put our effort together to support Sendai and Saitama dioceses.

After the meeting, participants were divided to 3 groups to visit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima respectively for a over night trip to know the reality of the disaster area.

The photo above is our meeting on Monday which was held in a small chapel of the Cathedral.  There was no other space to accommodate 40 people for a meeting.  You may wonder why there were no such spaces in Diocesan center.  It is because most of such big spaces of the center have been dedicated to use for the Sendai Diocese Support Center to facilitate and coordinate rehabilitation and reconstruction activities of the diocese.

As I am joining Bishop Tani's group to visit Mexico from tomorrow, next posting of this blog will be on or after 23 July.

By the way, Holy Father has just appointed Fr.Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, as an archbishop of LUXEMBOURG.  Why am I writing about the appointment of bishop in Europe?  Because Fr. Hollerich is currently working in Japan.  He is a German professor in Sophia University in Tokyo.  Congratulations, Bishop-elect Hollerich!

Jul 5, 2011

Bishop Hamaguchi ordained for OITA diocese

Entire faithful, priests and religious of OITA diocese in Kyushu have been waiting for the appointment of their new pastor for more than 3 years since their last pastor, Bishop Miyahara had been transfered to Fukuoka diocese in March, 2008.  Finally, their new pastor, Bishop Paul Sueo HAMAGUCHI has been ordained and installed on 26 June, the feast of Corpus Christi in Japan.

Ordination Mass was held in a convention center in Beppu, a famous Spa resort city near Oita where the cathedral is located. Since the Cathedral of Oita is too small to accommodate more than 1,500 people gathered together to join the celebration, organising committee had decided to hire the huge convention hall for the ceremony.  Almost all the active Bishops in Japan, including outgoing Nuncio and several retired bishops, including former Bishop of Oita and presently a rector of the International Seminary of Neo Catechumanate for Japan which is located in Rome, Bishop Hirayama join the Mass which was presided over by Archbishop TAKAMI of Nagasaki.  Bishop MIyahara of Fukuoka and Bishop Koriyama of Kagoshima, all of them from Nagasaki province, were the co-consecrating Bishops with Archbishop Takami.

Bishop Hamaguchi, 62, is originally from Nagasaki and was a rector of minor seminary in Nagasaki diocese before.  He  was seconded to Takamatsu diocese for sometime to support Bishop Mizobe, SDB, upon his request to send experienced priests to support pastoral care of Takamatsu diocese after the difficulties faced by Bishop of Takamatsu connected to the incident of Neo Catechumanate seminary.  His motto is "Proclaim Good News to all creatures."  Though the OPita diocese is small with around 5,000 Catholics, newly appointed bishop is determined to work together with people to proclaim Gospel message with confidence which is based on his strong faith background from Nagasaki.

 Congratulations for Bishop Hamaguchi.

Jun 21, 2011

Bishop Suwa ordained in Takamatsu

Newly appointed Bishop of Takamatsu diocese, Bishop John Eijiro Suwa, who is succeeding Bishop Osamu Mizobe, has been ordained a bishop and enthroned on 19 June.  The celebration was attended by more than one thousand people from 4 prefectures in Shikoku which are under Takamatsu diocese where Bishop Suwa had been working as a parish priest for past 6 years and many from Osaka archdiocese where the bishop originally belonged to.  Archbishop Jun Ikenaga of Osaka was the main celebrant and co-consecrating bishops were the out-going Nuncio and bishop Mizobe.  All other bishops of Japan including 2 bishop-elects and Archbishop Kim of Kwangju joined the consecration Mass.  Archbishop Kim has been sending one of his seminarians to Takamatsu diocese. 

As we all know well, name of the diocese of Takamatsu has been on the news on the issue of the international seminary established as a diocesan seminary by Neo Catechumenate Way.  I do not want to go into the entire story of the issue, however, I may point out the fact that the diocese which has only five thousand Catholics out of four million people might easily face several practical problems which poor bishop had to face in practical sense to run such an institution while rest of 15 dioceses in Japan themselves facing several difficulties to run a national seminary such as securing "Japanese speaking" qualified professors and shouldering quite high living cost in Japan.  The international seminary has been transferred to Rome since then.  Newly appointed bishop has to face the task to secure the unity among laity, religious and priests in the diocese.  Bishop Matsuura of Osaka preached on the issue of unity in the Catholic community in the diocese during the consecration Mass.       

Jun 18, 2011

3 New bishops for Japan

As I have already posted, Holy Father on 25 March appointed 2 new bishops for Japan.  Bishop John Eijiro Suwa for Takamatsu diocese and Fr.Paul Sueo Hamaguchi for Oita diocese.  Bishop Suwa will be ordained in Takamatsu tomorrow, 19 June at 2 pm and Bishop Hamaguchi will be ordained in Beppu near Oita on 26 June at 2 pm.

Then during the general assembly of Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) this week on 13 June, Holy Father appointed yet another new bishop for Japan.  Bishop Thomas Man-yo Maeda has been appointed as a bishop of Hiroshima and, at the same time, Holy Father accepted the resignation of Bishop Misue as he had reached the age limit of 75 this year.  Bishop-elect Maeda is originally from Nagasaki and has been serving as the secretary general of Bishops' conference for 6 years.  Photo above was taken during the general assembly of CBCJ.  All the bishops were invited for dinner with nuncio in his residence in Tokyo.  From left; Bishop Maeda, Bishop Suwa, Bishop Hamaguchi and the Nuncio, Archbishop Bottari de Castello.  The Nuncio himself is on transfer to Hungary.  He served as the nuncio to Japan for 6 years.

The general assembly of CBCJ was held in Tokyo from 13 to 17 June.  We, the bishops, spent quite a long time to discuss about our response to the disaster which struck dioceses of Sendai and Saitama on 11 March.  We made several agreements among ourselves to respond to the urgent requests from Bishop Hiraga of Sendai.  We agreed to send 6 priests to Sendai diocese to assist its pastoral activities.  Nagasaki ecclesiastical province will send a priest to Kuji in Iwate while the Major Superior Conference may try to take care of Ominato in Aomori prefecture.  Then Osaka province will send 2 to Ofunato and Tsukidate, and Tokyo province may send 2 to the Sendai city pastoral team.  We also agreed that the Nagasaki province may try to support people in northern coastal part of Iwate, Osaka province may support  southern coastal part of Iwate and northern coastal part of Miyagi, and Tokyo province to southern Miyagi and Fukushima.  These support will not be only for Catholics but will cover general public in the area in cooperation with local Catholic communities.  Also it aims to establish long term relationship between the are and each ecclesiastical province.

Bishops also decided to issue a short statement to express our desire to collectively support victims of the disaster and also show our solidarity.  Japanese version of the message has been already published in the HP of the CBCJ and it may be translated into several languages within few days.

We also agreed to the final version of new translation of Hail Mary in modern Japanese.  The final text has been also published in the HP of the CBCJ.

Jun 11, 2011

Confirmation in ITOIGAWA

Since my return from Rome on 29 May, I had to attend so many meetings and functions in various places outside my own diocese.  Thus, this delay of posting news from my diocese.  Most noteworthy of all these engagements in past few weeks is a meeting held in Fukushima on 2 and 3 June.  Fukushima is a capital city of Fukushima prefecture where the nuclear power plant in crisis is located.  The meeting was called by the All Japan Support Team (AJST) of which I am in charge.  Bishop Hiraga, Fr. Komatsu and several other senior priests from Sendai diocese are among the invitees together with Caritas members and AJST staff, Fr. Hiroshi Kanda and Mr. Kazunori Hamaguchi from Osaka Diocese.  We still do not know how long it may take to bring the power plant under control and people in the area will be allowed to return to their home town.  Victims are suffering from Earth Quake, Tsunami, Nuclear accident and rumors.  Whatever originated from Fukushima might be the target of discrimination because of rumor against to the effect of radiation.  No one actually knows the real picture of what has been happening in Fukushima No.1 power plant and we are left in uncertainty because of limited supply or delayed supply of facts by both government and the Tokyo Electric power Company. So we just wanted to make sure of possibilities we have to support victims.

During this first meeting we could not come to any concrete conclusion but so many ideas were expressed.  So we will bring these ideas again to the next Sendai Support meeting on 22 June to deepen them to find our own response to the Fukushima crisis.  Meantime, Caritas Japan has issued a new EA (Emergency Appeal) through Caritas Internationalis to clarify our activities till September.

Then, on 5 June, Nagaoka district held its assembly in ITOIGAWA church which is the south end of my diocese and 2 hours drive from my house in Niigata.  Nagaoka district used be solely for Franciscan missionaries but since last year, Fr. Takahashi, a diocesan, Fr.Ferdi and Fr.Lorenzo, both SVDs, have been assigned to take care of 3 parishes in the district upon the request from the Japan province of the OFM to hand over a part of the district to the diocese.  Still, at present, remaining 5 other parishes are under the pastoral care of Franciscans.  Among those laity attended the assembly were members originally from Philippines and their kids.   Good to see many young faces among the congregation.  Fr. Fumio Goto, SVD of Kichijoji parish in Tokyo was a key note speaker.  He talked about his own NGO which has been supporting education activities in Cambodia for many years.   Fr.Goto's activities began in late 70's when he decided to accommodate refugee kids from Cambodia in his own parish.   Also Itoigawa's 5 youths received the sacrament of Confirmation during the Mass.        

May 29, 2011

Caritas Internationalis completed its 19th GA in Rome

Caritas internationalis has just completed its 19th General Assembly in Rome and started its new 4 year period with a new set of executive committee with a new secretary general while re-electing Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB as its president.  The assembly started in Domus Mariae in Rome on 22 May with Holy Eucharist celebrated solemnly by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State.  It was attended by more than 300 participants from all over the world including around 40 bishops.  Caritas Japan was represented by Fr. Daisuke Narui, SVD and I also participated as the in-coming President of Caritas Asia.

Though there must have been well-founded reason existing on the side of the Holy See, however, it seems to me that good intent of not to hurt anyone in public of all parties involved made the "nihil obstat" story took on a life of its own.  It was the GA with ostensive presence of Holy See among the participants this time compare with my previous experiences of 3 GA in 1999, 2003 and 2007.  It was, honestly, quite strange to meet Fr.Timothy Radcliffe OP among the participants who shared no specific role to play even though he had prepared a talk beforehand, so I heard.  Fr. Cantalamessa's talk was deep in spirituality and Cardinal Peter Turkson's talk was inspiring but I had hard time to connect these talks with the main theme of the GA which was "One Human Family, Zero poverty".   The president of Cor Unum, Cardinal Sarah's talk was quite in the context of Caritas activities and gave us quite an insight.   I do understood that the presence of the Holy See was needed to deepen the dialogue between Holy See and the Caritas in order to finalise the new text for its Statutes and Internal Rules which have to conform with the the public canonical legal status granted by Blessed Pope JPII in 2004.  Catholic identity was at stake, so I was told by speakers and there exists need to deepen theology of Caritas.  Sounds quite familiar in Japan.  In many Catholic institutions, Catholic identity is at stake for quite sometime and we have been struggling to find an answer for it.  Revised texts were not satisfactory reflecting these thoughts yet and, thus, were not presented for voting.  The new team of Executives will work closely with the Secretariat of State to come with much more deepened texts soon.  Already, the new bureau (the president and 7 regional presidents) have met with the officials of the Secretariat of States on Saturday morning to begin the dialogue in cordial atmosphere.

The 19th General Assembly re-elected H.E. Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, as its president for the second term, Mr. Juerg Krummenacher as its treasurer, and Mr. Michel Roy as its new Secretary General (Photo below).  Also the GA endorsed the Strategic Framework 2011 to 2015.  The Strategic Framework has 4 objectives which are; "Compassion in action; Promote integral Human Development; A stronger more effective confederation; and Advocacy for a better world."  Also the GA approved the financial framework for next 4years.

All 7 regional presidents were presented for ratification and with the positive votes of the GA, they became the vice presidents of the CI.  They are Fr. Erny Gillen (First Vice President, Europe), Bishop Francisco Silota (Second Vice President, Africa), Bishop Fernando Bargallo (Latin America), Bishop Isao Kikuchi (Asia), Mr. Joseph Farah (MONA), Mr. Michael Casey (North America), and Msgr. Gery Burns (Oceania).   Asia is represented in the Executive Committee by Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

On Friday, 27 at noon, Holy Father received all the participants in private audience.  With this and holy Eucharist celebrated by Cardinal President, we closed the GA with deep sense of unity and more determination to work as witness of love of God.       

May 21, 2011

On my way to Rome.

I am leaving for Rome today to attend the general assembly of Caritas internationalis.  The meeting will begin tomorrow, Sunday 22 May and close on Friday, 27 May.  If possible, I will report from the scene.

May 18, 2011

Cardinal Sarah prayed for victims of Tsunami in Sendai

The president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", Cardinal Robert Sarah visited Japan from 13 to 17 May to bring message of condolence and hope from Holy Father to the victims of recent earthquake and  tsunami in eastern Japan.  On 14th morning, Cardinal was accompanied by Bishop Tani of Saitama to visit Iwaki city of Fukushima prefecture.  The area was damaged by tsunami and also still suffering from the crisis in the nuclear power plant.  In the afternoon of 14th, he joined 13 Japanese bishops to attend the thanksgiving Mass for the beatification of JPII in Tokyo Cathedral.  After the Mass, Cardinal was joined by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Alberto Bottari de Castello, and the president of Japanese Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Leo Ikenaga of Osaka to travel to Sendai by Shinkansen train.  Bishop Hiraga of Sendai also accompanied the group.

On 15th Sunday, Cardinal presided over the Holy Eucharist in English at the Sendai Cathedral.  After the Mass, he was taken to several volunteers' bases in Miyagi area which have been established by Caritas Japan in cooperation with the Sendai Diocese Support Center (SDSC).  In Shichigahama beach, he offered a prayer for victims of tsunami and also offer flowers according to the Japanese tradition.  Then he visited Ishinomaki where Catholic Parish has been serving as a base for volunteers sent by Caritas.  City of Ishinomaki has been badly damaged by tsunami.  Cardinal was invited to visit an evacuation center in Ishinomaki to meet with victims.

On 16the Monday, after early morning Mass in the Sendai Cathedral, Cardinal visited Matsushima town and was welcomed by a mayor of the town.  This courtesy visit was made possible through the vice mayor of the town who used to work as a volunteer in Kobe during the 1995 Hanshin Awaji earthquake disaster.  During that time, the vice mayor met with Fr. Kanda of Takatori Catholic Church and, since then, two are linked with friendship.  The town responded to our request to arrange for a prayer service offshore by allowing us to join the sightseeing boat of the town and offer prayer on the boat.  Massive number of victims are still missing.  Many were dragged into sea by returning tsunami wave.  So that we asked Cardinal to offer prayer at the sea. (Photo above)  Cardinal prayed in Italian and sprinkle Holy Water over the sea and offer flower.  Several number of News Agencies had sent their reporters for the event.

After the Matsushima prayer, Cardinal made courtesy visit to mayor of Sendai city. (Photo above)  The mayor was happy to meet with Cardinal not only because of his message of hope from Holy Father but also because of historical background between Sendai and the Holy See.  Between 1613 to 1620, a delegation led by Franciscan Luis Sotelo and Hasekura Tsunenaga was sent to Europe at Lord Date Masamune's order.  Lord Date Masamune's headquarter was in Sendai.  Hasekura Tsunenaga who was baptised in Spain a few months ago was received in audience by Pope Paul V on 3 November, 1615.  He was also granted Roman citizenship. Following is an excerpt of an article in Mainichi English newspaper on 12 May on the background historical fact between Sendai and Rome.

(The Japanese government) said it will ask UNESCO by March 2012 to include in the heritage list the Midokampakuki diary written by high-ranking noble Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027) and the Keicho Ken-O Shisetsu records featuring relations with Europe shortly before Japan began closing itself to other countries in the 1630s in the Edo Era.

(The Keicho-ken-O Shisestu) record is a set of some 50 items showing diplomatic and cultural exchanges with Europe, including a Roman citizenship certificate which Hasekura Tsunenaga brought back after traveling in Europe at Lord Date Masamune's command.
Since Hasekura Tsunenaga met with Holy Father 400 years ago, Sendai city is planning to send a delegation in 2013 to commemorate the historical event.  The director of the Sendai City museum presented Cardinal Sarah several books on the visit of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Europe and asked for the understanding and support of Holy See to the commemorative activities.

The team returned Tokyo in the evening of Monday. Then Cardinal Sarah has left Tokyo for Rome on 17 May.

May 10, 2011

Cardinal Sarah to visit tsunami hit area

President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Robert Sarah is scheduled to visit Japan from 13 to 17 May as a special delegate of Holy Father.  Cardinal Sarah will visit Iwaki in Fukushima on 14 morning and several tsunami hit areas in Sendai in Miyagi on 15 and 16.  He will also join the thanksgiving Mass for the beatification of JPII in Tokyo Cathedral on 14 afternoon and preside over the Sunday Mass on 15 at Sendai Cathedral. (Photo above:  right, Cardinal Sarah in 2006 as a secretary of Propaganda Fide; center, Cardinal Levada of the Doctrine of the Faith; left, Cardinal Ivan Dias of the Propaganda Fide)

Originally from Guinea in West Africa, Cardinal Sarah was appointed the Archbishop of Conakry, the capital of his native country, in 1979 when he was only 34 years old.  In 2001, he was appointed as a secretary of the Propaganda Fide and promoted to be a president of the Cor Unum in October, 2010.  He was made Cardinal in November, 2010.  As a secretary of the Propaganda Fide, Cardinal Sarah is well known among Japanese Bishops and also he is well acquainted with the situation of Catholic Church in Japan.

The Pontifical Council COR UNUM for Human and Christian Development was established by Pope Paul VI in 1971.  According to the web page of the Holy See, Cor Unum's objectives are as follows.

  • To assist the Pope and be his instrument for carrying out special initiatives in the field of humanitarian actions when disasters occur, or in the field of integral human promotion;
  • To foster the catechesis of Charity and encourage the faithful to give a concrete witness to evangelical charity;
  • To encourage and coordinate the initiatives of Catholic Organizations through the exchange of information and by promoting fraternal cooperation in favour of integral human development.

Cor Unum also oversees Caritas Internationalis.  By the way, just a related story to the photo above, Holy Father accepted today resignation of Cardinal Ivan Dias, the prefect of the Propaganda Fide, upon reaching age limit of 75.  Holy Father appointed Archbishop Fernando Filoni as the new prefect of the Propaganda Fide.  Archbishop Filoni has been serving as the substitute of the State Department of the Holy See since 2007.  Being a substitute of the State Department is quite important for entire Catholic Church's decision making process since the post is to work quite close with Holy Father.  But his new post is also quite important for local Churches in mission territory, such as Japan.  For the mission territory, local churches are under the jurisdiction of the Propaganda Fide and bishops' appointments are oversaw by the Propaganda Fide and not by the congregation for bishops.  It is important.

May 5, 2011

Baptism in Shinjo

On 1 May, all parishes in Niigata and Sapporo diocese celebrated thanksgiving Mass for beatification of late Pope John Paul II.  I celebrated the Mass with the Shinjo Catholic community in Yamagata district.  Majority of parishioners of Shinjo are mothers from Philippines, those who had been invited by local governments to be wedded to local farmers.  There are only 2 Japanese as their original members and rest of them, probably more than 100 are from Philippines.  Of course, these mothers bring their kids for baptism, therefore the Shinjo community is one of the youngest in average age in Niigata diocese.

On the day of beatification of JPII, Shinjo Catholic Community welcomed 2 additional members as a father and his son were baptised during the Mass.  Mother of the child and, of course, the father's wife is also from Philippines.  Congratulations!  Now the community got one and only grown-up Japanese male member.

To join the celebration of baptism, Fr. Honma came with a group of parishioners of Yamagata.  After the Mass, all of them joined a party in which we enjoyed wonderful Filipino foods and professional singing by one of them.