Dec 31, 2012

On the last day of the year 2012

This is the last day of the year 2012. The last day of the year creates special atmosphere in Japan for everyone to reflect upon one's words and deeds of past one year. Many visit shrine or temple this evening to get purification of hearts and blessings for the new year.

In the same way, I also reflected on my own words and deeds of past one year and what I can say is only "thank you all". Because of you,my dera friends, I could fulfill my duty as a bishop. You supported me through your words, deeds and prayers. Thank you.
I could not post new articles as often as I should have been but I never forgot thei important communication tool with many of you.  I have shifted quite a part of my time to write posts in the Facebook recently.  If you have your Facebook accounts, you are welcome to find me there.

 Regrettably, a new bishop for Sapporo has not been appointed by Holy Father yet. I expected it to happen within the year 2012. I know our Nuncio in Japan has been working very hard to find a suitable person for this important post but it is not easy.  Meantime, Archbishop of Osaka and Bishop of Nagoya has reached the retirement age of 75 already.  Well, we have to wait and see. So I am still in charge of 2 dioceses, Niigata and Sapporo, and may continue to be so for some more time. I need much more prayer from you because of this.

This morning, I found an article in our local news paper, Niigata Nippo, on the life stories of Filipino Mothers in Ofunato, Iwate, which is in the area hit by Tsunami on 11 March.  (the photo above) The article also mentioned about the activities of Catholic Church in the area, especially of Sr. Nogami and Fr. Harnoko. The name "Caritas" was also mentioned. 
As I have been saying that the Filipino migrants or other Catholic migrants in Japan are, regardles of the reason to be in Japan, missionaries in modern times sent by God to Japan. My dear Filipino Catholics, you are missionaries.

Happy New Year!

Nov 27, 2012

Opening of the workshop on Anti-Trafficking @Tagaytay

Caritas Asia organised a regional planning workshop on anti-trafficking of women and children in Tagaytay, Philippines, from 21 to 23 November at the CBCP Nassa BEC development Center. The workshop was hosted by Caritas Philippines, Nassa. I could join the workshop as the President of Caritas Asia only on the first day to welcome more than 30 participants from 11 countries in Asia. Bishop Pabillo, the chairman of CBCP Commission on Social Action, joined the opening Mass and gave us encouragement through his homily. Caritas Internationalis is also represented by Ms. Orga Zhyvvsta, the project adviser in Rome.  

Caritas Asia inherited the program on the Anti-trafficking from APHD and has been seriously tackling this terrible crime in the modern society. So this workshop is to evaluate past experience of the program and plan for future. 

Below is my welcome address at the beginning of the workshop.

This is my greatest pleasure to be with you today to join the Caritas Asia Workshop on Anti-Trafficking of Women and Children.  While showing our sincere gratitude to Caritas Philippines (NASSA) who is generously hosting this event, I also welcome all of you on behalf of the entire member organizations of Caritas Asia.
Currently, our Church is celebrating the Year of Faith from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013.  The Holy Father has set this occasion for all Christians to rediscover, and share with others the precious gift of Faith entrusted to the Church and the personal gift of faith that we have each received from God.  As a member of Caritas Member Organizations, we also share this sentiment of the Catholic Church and try to commit ourselves to be a part of its mission, especially in the field of charitable activities. The Holy Father, in his first Encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" puts emphasis on the three-fold responsibilities of the Church which are "proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)"  Therefore, while participating in the Caritas activities, we are also taking part in the essential dimension of its mission.
The Year of Faith also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.  Among all the important documents of the Council, the "PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD", "GAUDIUM ET SPES" has significant importance for our direction in Caritas activities.  The constitution begins with these famous phrases: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."
Though we may find number of "joys and hopes" among people whom we serve, much more "griefs and anxieties" attracts our attention.  One of these "griefs and anxieties" is problems caused by human trafficking of women and children.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in modern society. It has been victimizing millions of women, children all over the world. And it does not care about international borders.  Therefore every country of this world is affected in one way or another.  So it is a cry of the people that has to be answered by each and everyone.
I hope that this meeting for the member organizations of Caritas Asia, that are part of the regional program on the Anti-Trafficking of Women and Children, will give all of us a good opportunity to share our experiences and give us courage to work for people who are locked in the bond of human misery.
I wish you all a happy stay in the Philippines.

The Chrysanthemum Festival @ Yahiko Shrine

Annual event of the Chrysanthemum (Kiku) Festival was held at YAHIKO Shinto Shrine in Yahiko township near Niigata city from 1 November to 24. This festival is a kind of competition among local flower growers.  Though you do not find dolls made out of flowers here as other famous Kiku Festivals but you may see wonderful Kiku flowers all over the shrine premises.


 Yahiko Shrine is located at the foot of Mt. Yahiko which is 634m above sea level. 634m high is the same height with Tokyo Skytree. You may climb the Mt. Yahiko either by foot, a cable car or by your own car. At the top of the mountain, you may also try to ride a Panorama Tower which brings you 100m high and give you perfect 360 degree view only if weather is fine.

Nov 13, 2012

Pastoral visits @ Naoetsu, Myoko & Itoigawa

Autumn is a season for pastoral visits of parishes in Niigata Diocese.  So I made two pastoral visits on Sunday, 4 November and another one on 11 in Nagaoka district which is in south of Niigata prefecture.

First on 4 November at 9:30 am in Naoetsu. Parishioners gathered together in front of the city crematory.  I do not know what images you have on "crematory" but the photo above is the one in Naoetsu and this is a typical crematory in Japan.  You do not find any chimney and it looks like a museum or hotel.  In Japan, one can not avoid cremation on transition from this world to eternity.  It will be quite difficult to find any cemeteries in Japan which accept actual burial of a body.  In most cases, a tomb is owned by a family and it has space enough to contain ashes. 
Well, across the street from the crematory is the Parish Cemetery of Naoetsu Parish and that is why parishioners had been gathering in front of the crematory. Every year in the first Sunday of November, number of parishes in our diocese organises the cemetery Mass to pray for their beloved departed souls.  The parish priest, Fr. Hubert Nelskamp,OFM, celebrated Mass with me.  After the Mass, we returned to the Parish for lunch together.

After the lunch, I traveled with Fr. Hubert to visit Myoko Church, an out-station of Takada parish.  Fr. Hubert is also taking care of Takada parish at this moment with 2 other elderly priests assisting him for Mass duties.  Myoko Church is in a mountainside of Mt. Myoko. Myoko area is beautiful place and the station has a lovely chapel which looks like a mountain cabin. Also they have a cottage which is able to accommodate around 50 people. The cottage used to belong to a major bank corporation.  Any Catholics not only in Niigata diocese but from all over Japan are welcome to use this wonderful facility of Myoko cottage.   Contact Takada parish for information.  Moreover, this cottage has natural Onsen, a hot spring bath, attached in it. You have to enjoy it.
On 11 November, I drove around 3 hours to reach the southern end of my diocese, Itoigawa city.  There Fr. Bruno Fabbri, OFM, was waiting for me to visit his flock in Itoigawa.  I could find number of faces from Philippines among the congregation. 

Fr. Bruno arranged a kind of forum after the Mass to let parishioners to ask any questions to Bishop. After some typical questions, such as what would be the answer for aging population and diminishing number of youths in parishes in the diocese, or what would be the best way to strengthen community spirit, etc., one lady stood up to share her own story.  She was an only Catholic in her family.  Typical situation in Japan.  Her husband never showed any interest to Christianity and their children are rather hostile against to any religious practices.  So she was lamenting her inability to contribute to the Evangelisation effort of the Church and asked me what to do.
I just wondered what to say to her since this is not the only case in Catholic community in Japan and many are feeling kind of guilty conscience of not able to produce much fruits of the Evangelisation in their family.  What to say?  Then the situation of migrant Catholics, especially those ladies from other countries who had been married with Japanese farmers in my diocese came to my mind.  I have been telling these migrant Catholics that they had been sent by God as missionaries of modern times to penetrate deep into Japanese traditional family system with Gospel values behind them.  So it must be the same case with these Japanese Catholics who are feeling alone in their families.  They do not have to be ashamed of not doing anything for the Evangelisation because without their very existence in their families, these family members, husbands or wives and kids, never ever had any chance to encounter with Christianity. Whether these family members take positive or negative attitude toward Christianity, at least they had a chance to know about it through these lone Catholics in families.  What a great contribution to the Evangelisation.  What a deep mystery of God's providence. 
After the forum, we had lunch together and I enjoyed both Japanese and Filipino foods.  Thank you everyone in Naoetsu, Myoko and Itoigawa for wonderful hospitality to be with your Bishop.   

Oct 31, 2012

New appointments, also for myself.

Past few days, there have been a number of important appointments made by Holy Father for Catholics in Asia.

First and most, we are happy to know that  Archbishop Chito Tagle of Manila and the major Archbishop of the Trivandrum of the Siro-Malankaresi in India, His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal were among those 6 bishops named Cardinal by Holy Father on 24 October.

Archbishop Tagle is well known as one of the best speaker of modern times in Catholic Church and I also had several occasion to meet him.  Photo above is from a meeting in Taipei a few years ago.

In January when I went to New Delhi for the Golden Jubilee of Caritas India, I met Archbishop Cleemis.  Though, according to the birth record, he is younger than myself but he created a impression of well matured wise old man.  Wonderful man.

Compare with these important appointments this one is not so significant but it is a great honour and challenge for me.  It has been announced on 27 October that Holy Father appointed several additional new members for the Pontifical Council of Inter-religious Dialogue and Pontifical Council "Cor Unum." These appointments included two bishops from Japan.  First and most, Archbishop Okada of Tokyo has been appointed as a member of the Inter-religious Dialogue.  Then I have been appointed as a member of Cor Unum together with Cardinal Maradiaga, SDB, the president of Caritas Internationalis. Term of office is for 5 years.  Mr. Michel Roy, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis has also been appointed as a consultor of the Cor Unum. You may find other appointments of the day from this link.  In fact, I had received an appointment letter a few days before the announcement was made. The letter was signed by Cardinal Bertone and it was, of course, written in Latin.

Doubleheader Confirmation Mass@ Kashiwazaki & Tokamachi

On 21 October, Sunday, I made a pastoral visit of both Kashiwazaki and Tokamachi Parishes in Niigata Prefecture. City of Kashiwazaki is 80km southwest of Niigata city.  Then Tokamachi is 40km south of Kashiwazaki city.  Kashiwazaki city is famous for the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant run by Tokyo Electricity Company.  By the way, Niigata prefecture has been provided electricity from Tohoku Electricity Company and not from Tokyo Electricity Company which operates this world biggest mega-nuclear power plant with 7 reactors.  Because of the accident after the March 11 disaster of the Fukushima plant, all these 7 reactors have come to a halt.

This Sunday was a kind of the "Doubleheader Confirmation Mass Sunday".   I celebrated Mass at Kashiwazaki at 9am and Tokamachi at 3 pm. In Kashiwazaki, 6 people were confirmed while 3 people were baptized and one confirmed in Tokamachi.

First two photos are from Kashiwazaki in which you may find a parish priest, Fr. Leo Bassi, ofm, who is 89 years old this year from Italy standing behind those who were confirmed.  Still keeping strong and active so that he prepares candidates for confirmation every year.  Majority of kids who received infant baptism stop coming to Church while they are in the Junior High School because of Sunday sports activities organised as part of School activities.  Japanese kids are busy even on Sundays for school activities though, officially, the weekends are designated as holidays in Japanese School System.  I should not be so critical about the present practice of this society but Japanese society has developed one of the best way to kill traditional religions which require faithful to come for regular worship during weekends.  Japanese traditional religion, such as Shinto, does not require their faithful to visit their shrine in regular basis as such. 

The photo above is in the chapel of Tokamachi after the Mass.  You may find a parish priest, Fr. Sato and also Fr. Chito Lorenzo, SVD, from Nagaoka parish supporting the day's activities.  Well,you may see from the photo so many faces from other countries, especially from Philippines in Tokamachi Catholic Community. They and their families are real hope for the future of our diocese not only in Tokamachi but in many other parishes.  I believe these so-called "migrant Catholics" in Japan are the modern missionaries sent by God, especially to the places where traditional Catholic mission activities could not reach out, which is villages in country side.  These Filipino in the photo came all the way to Japan to be wives of Japanese farmers and now they are mothers of so many kids.  Their husbands are also showing quite positive attitude towards the religions of their wives, Catholic, and some of them have been baptised already.  Thank God for his providential care for us.

Oct 15, 2012

At the beginning of the Year of Faith

A message from Bishop Isao Kikuchi at the beginning of the Year of Faith

My dear brothers and sisters in Niigata diocese,

"We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16)"

With these words in his apostolic letter to announce the Year of Faith, "PORTA FIDEI," Holy Father invites all of us to commit ourselves to a new evangelization.

The Year of Faith begins on 11 October this year, which is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and will last till 24 November 2013, Sunday of the Christ the King. Through out this year, as one who inherited the gift of faith, we are invited to renew our commitment in "choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him ("Porta Fidei"10)" and to be witnesses of our faith through our words and deeds by going back to the root of our faith.

As we are celebrating the centenary of the diocese in Niigata, I would like to invite all of you to make this year as "time" to go back to the very basics of our faith and deepen your knowledge again.

While referring also to the message of Japanese Bishops Conference, I would like to recommend following points to be considered in our parishes. Each parishes are to come out with their own plans of action for the Year of Faith and report back to me through respective parish priests.

1: Read attentively the apostolic letter of Holy Father, "Porta Fidei," and meditate on it.
2: Participate in the Holy Eucharist actively.
3: Pay much more attention to the study of the documents of Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church "so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times."
4: More time and attention should be given to the Word of God and through prayer and sharing we will try to be renewed deep in our hearts.
5: By our own witnesses in the society through words and deeds, we will live to testify that "the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate."

In Niigata diocese, the Year of Faith has started on 7 October with the Centenary Thanksgiving Mass. On 14 October, parishes should pray for the blessing over the Year of Faith during the Sunday Mass.
As we are invited to renew our gift of faith, we are also invited to realize our responsibility to bring our witnesses of faith and love. May we be able to return to the origin of our faith and deepen our understanding of our own mission.

11 October, 2012
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata

Oct 12, 2012

Centenary Celebration of Niigata Diocese on 7,8 Oct.

Two-day celebration of the centenary of establishment of Catholic Diocese of Niigata was successfully ended. More than 700 people joined the thanksgiving Mass on 7, October at 1:30 pm at the Cathedral, Niigata Catholic Church. Archbishop Joseph Chennoth, Apostolic Nuncio to Japan, Archbishop Okada of Tokyo, Bishop Umemura of Yokohama and Bishop Hiraga of Sendai also joined the Mass which was con-celebrated by 40 priests.

Underneath, you may find my homily during the thanksgiving Mass. . During the Mass, two crucifixes which went around all the parishes in the diocese starting from last year's Christ the King Sunday finally arrived back to their original place, the Cathedral.  One of them was brought back by parishioners of Kazuno, the northern end of the diocese, and the other by parishioners of Itoigawa, southern end of the diocese.  These crucifixes were accompanied by a notebook respectively which are filled by photos and messages from parishes.  Main purpose of this relay of crucifixes are to foster unity of diocesan community while reminding ourselves that we are united under one crucifix which is showing others what we believe and what are our values as Christians.

After the Mass, there was a party in a local hotel.  Party room was filled by more than 400 people.  Students from Seishin Girls High School, one of our Catholic High School in the diocese, played Hand Bells at the beginning of the party.  Of course, as usual in Japan, none of these students are Christians but they played beautiful Catholic hymns for us.  Also our diocesan youth group performed their original song for the centenary which was also played during the thanksgiving Mass.  There were several performances by many individuals and groups including Filipino Dancing Team from Shinjo Church.

Then on 8 October, we held diocesan assembly which was attended by more than 300 people. Fr. Semoto, SJ, a professor of Philosophy in Sophia University gave a lecture on evangelization for 2 good hours. After that a member of the diocesan construction committee explained in detail about planned new building for the diocesan chancery office and a bishop's residence.  Then I spoke about the Mission Statement and invited all of them to submit the mission statement paper before they leave.  As I had declared, Niigata diocese started the Year of Faith with this centenary celebration, I also explained about the meaning of the Year of Faith.

Finally we had the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and presentation of the Mission Statement.  Representatives from each parishes brought mission statement papers from respective community to the alter.  I still invite all others who could not submit it to do so before Christmas.

Finally, one of two crucifixes  which went around the diocese for past one year was handed over to members of Catholic Parish in Khabarovsk, East Siberia, which is our sister Catholic community. Parish priest, Fr. Ivan also presented us a beautiful icon from Russia.  Khabarovsk community was represented by 2 priests and 2 ladies.  We thank them for traveling all the way from Siberia to visit us.  Well it might be a shorter flight to come to Japan for them than a flight to visit their own bishop in Irkutsk  though. Thank you everyone to join the celebration. The Celebration was all organised by a committee of our lay people and they spent 3 years to prepare for this.  Thank you so much.

Thanksgiving Mass for the Centenary of the Catholic Diocese of Niigata
Homily by Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
7 October, 2012
"The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people" (John 1:4)
      We have been trying to shine the light, which is the light shining in the darkness and the light of life, and to hold it high in Niigata diocese. United in the one faith, being a part of One Body, Catholics in Niigata diocese have made great and sincere efforts to be witnesses of the light through our words and deeds for one hundred years. As we enter the new period of the history, let us acknowledge the achievement of our ancestors in faith who created the history of the diocese and show our gratitude. At the same time, we have to be grateful to the providence of God who has been leading the Church community at the helm and have to renew our commitment to respond to his call.
      History of evangelization in prefectures of Niigata, Yamagata and Akita started more than 400 years ago. Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa and the memorial site of martyrs in Sado island are the clear evidence of early presence of Christians in this area. The community of Christians in Yonezawa led by Blessed Louis Amakasu Uemon in 17th century counted more than two thousand members according to the record. Their strong and vigorous witnesses of faith through words and deeds, especially by the 53 Blessed Martyrs, have created steadfast foundation of our Church community.
      After the period of persecution of Christians in Japan, missionaries returned to Niigata and started evangelization effort in 1871, which is 141 years ago. On 13 August, 1912, after almost 40 years of re-evangelization effort, the Apostolic Prefecture of Niigata was established with territories from Akita, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures taken from Hakodate diocese and Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui from Tokyo diocese. The Society of the Divine Word, SVD, was made in charge of the Apostolic Prefecture with appointment of Msgr. Joseph Reiners, SVD, as its first Prefect. Fifty years later on 16 April, 1962, the Apostolic Prefecture was made a diocese and Bishop John Shojiro ITO, then a parish priest of Yamate in Yokohama, was appointed as its first diocesan bishop.
      Though one hundred years has passed since Niigata became an apostolic prefecture and fifty years as a diocese, this area has never been considered as greener pastures for missionaries since the time of Hakodate diocese. The diocese has local population of more than four million. However, according to the statistics for past 40 years, Catholic population has been always around seven thousand. If we look at the statistics to evaluate our evangelization effort, then we might be called a failure. However, what is important for us is not just finding better results in numbers. The crucial point is whether we have been able to be a bright light shinning in darkness and to bring real light of life to people and to this society or not. We have to examine our way of life as Christians.
      In his Apostolic Exhortation, "Verbum Domini," Holy Father writes:
"In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the “ordinary maintenance” of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community." (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini 95)
      Then Holy Father reminds us that "Church is a community that hears and proclaims the word of God." (VD 51) and challenges us to re-examine our fidelity to this call to be Church. After 100 years of evangelization activities, have we been able to create a community of matured Catholics in this diocese? Is our enthusiasm for evangelization still burning in our hearts? Have we been faithfully trying to listen to the Word of God and to disseminate it?
      On the occasion of the centenary, the Niigata diocese has revised its 3 priorities in evangelization. These are as follows:
1: To build "our Church", one which is filled by joy and compassion through overcoming differences created by age, nationality and cultural diversity.
2: Realizing the responsibilities of the Catholic Church in society through exchanges of information within the diocese, districts and parishes.
3: To continue to nurture and deepen our faith, so that we may be witnesses of the      Gospel both through our words and deeds in the midst of contemporary society
Parishes in the diocese faces quite common challenges such as: less kids and more elderly members, massive rural exodus of population, differences of language and culture among members, aging priests and religious and no vocation, and absence of youth in parishes.
      However, we are still able to see bright lights even in these difficulties such as existence of migrant Catholics, especially from Philippines, whom, I believe, God has sent to Japan as missionaries of our time. It's providence of God.
      The 3 priorities lead us to find the best way of the action in evangelization for the entire diocesan community in order to be witnesses of Gospel even though we face so many of difficulties. On this occasion of the Centenary celebration, let us re-commit ourselves to this important activities of evangelization together with other members of the one community.
      Fifty years ago on 11 October, 1962, the Second Vatican Council opened a session. In commemoration of this great event of the modern Catholic history, Holy Father announced to observe the "Year of Faith" starting from 11 October. In Niigata Diocese, today's Mass is also the opening Mass for the "Year of Faith." As we try to re-discover the very basics of our faith, we are also challenged to reconfirm our commitment to the mission. In this context, it is really providential to have both the Centenary of the diocese and the "Year of Faith" within the same year.
      On Christmas in 1961, Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council with the Apostolic Constitution "HUMANAE SALUTIS." In the Apostolic Constitution late Pope wrote as follows:
"While humanity is at the threshold of a new age, immensely serious and broad tasks await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of her history. It is a question in fact of bringing the perennial life-giving energies of the Gospel to the modern world" (HS 3)
      Let us pray that the Niigata Diocese would be able to bring "the perennial life-giving energies of the Gospel to the modern world." As we celebrate the centenary of the diocese, let us pray that God may provide us continuous guidance and blessings as ever.

Oct 3, 2012

Commemoration Mass of 53 Blessed Martyrs in Yonezawa

Memorial and Thanksgiving Mass of the 53 Blessed martyrs of Yonezawa was celebrated on 9 September at the site of martyrdom of the martyrs led by Blessed Luis Amakasu in Yonezawa city, Yamagata which is in Niigata diocese. As we are preparing for the august celebration of the centenary of Niigata Diocese in October 7 and 8, this years' event in Yonezawa was limited for the parish and its out-station.

However, more than 40 people joined the open air mass including a group from Tokyo led by Fr. Fujioka of Tokyo diocese  After the Mass, Mr. Mori who is a local historian and a member of the Catholic Church in Yonezawa took us around to visit several historical sites related Christians in 16 or 17 century and also invited us to visit a local family who kept important historical materials concerning Christians at that time of martyrdom in their house.

Hokusannbara is the name of the place in Yonezawa city where 53 Christians were killed on 12 January 1629. They have been beatified with other martyrs from all over Japan, though the Yonezawa group was the biggest in number, in 2008 and called Blessed Peter Kibe and his companions. According to the liturgical calender, 1 July is their feast day.  Because of hot summer heat, we decided to shift the celebration in Yonezawa to September.

Old documents describing the situation of martyrdom from the time of martyrs which is 17th century.  These documents have been kept in a wooden box in a house of former land owner of the area who was a wealthy farmer.

Local Shinto Shrine kept a Marian statue as their Mercy Goddess   According to the local historian, this must be one of evidences of existence of quite a number of Christians at that time in this area of Yonezawa.

Aug 28, 2012

Mission Statement of Diocese of Niigata

Catholic Diocese of Niigata is celebrating its centenary this year.  It was established as the Apostolic Prefecture in 1912 and pastoral care was entrusted to the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD).  Then it was made diocese in 1962 with the appointment of first bishop, Bishop Shojiro Ito.  The centenary celebration in Niigata will take place on Sunday, 7 October.  Thanksgiving Mass will be con-celebrated with 5 Bishops and more than 40 priests, including Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop of Tokyo, Bishops of Yokohama and Sendai.  On 8 October, the Diocesan Assembly will be held in the Cathedral with more than 400 laity, religious and priests representing entire Niigata diocese.  For this august occasion, the diocese has come up with the "Centenary Mission Statement" which, I so wish, will be signed by each and every member of the diocese and will be presented to the alter during this assembly.  The Mission Statement is based on the three priorities in evangelization of the diocese.

We have prepared A4 sized document which will be submitted during the assembly with the signature and individual resolutions.  Also we will distribute a card with the Mission Statement which should be kept at home.  Now following is the Mission Statement of the Niigata Diocese.


We, the Catholic Diocese of Niigata, comprising the civil prefectures of Niigata, Yamagata and Akita this year mark the centenary of our foundation as a diocese. We have always striven, as disciples of Lord Jesus, to live according to the Gospel, and to be witnesses of the Gospel while seeking to grow as Church communities.

Though we are a small community in this area, we have tried to discern and live out our following the way of disciples of Jesus as one firmly rooted in the local community.

Building on 100 years of history, we are determined to proclaim and witness to the value of Gospel in contemporary society.

As we make our first steps towards the next 100 years, we proclaim the following points as our priorities.

1: To build "our Church", one which is filled by joy and compassion through overcoming differences created by age, nationality and cultural diversity.
2: Realizing the responsibilities of the Catholic Church in society through exchanges of information within the diocese, districts and parishes.
3: To continue to nurture and deepen our faith, so that we may be witnesses of the Gospel both through our words and deeds in the midst of contemporary society

We hereby pledge, encouraged by the witness of Blessed Louis Uemon Amakasu and the 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa, our forefathers in faith, that we will face the realities of contemporary society with courage and through our actions will strive always to witness to the love of Christ.

8 October, 2012

Aug 26, 2012

Summer is a time for festivals @ Niigata

First weekend of August every year is designated as the city festival time of the City of Niigata. So it started as ever with the Grand Dancing Gala in center of the city on 3 August.

Usually this kind of summer festivals are connected to local Shinto shrine in many places in Japan.  But for number of major cities have their own invented festivals because cities themselves are products of several amalgamation and final products do not have any connection with local religious traditions.  Usually with in such big cities, there are several local communities which have their own traditional festivals.  Niigata city decided to organize their own 3 day festival which includes several of those traditional local festivals also.

But the main events of the festival in Niigata are this Grand Dancing Gala and the Hanibi Night (fireworks show).  The Dancing Gala starts from the city's main rail way station, crossing the bridge over the main Shinanogawa river and continue to the old shopping area.  So dancing stretches over more than 2 km of main street of Niigata city.  People just dance from 7 to 9 pm and the dance music is Minyo which is local traditional songs of the area. (This kind of traditional dancing during the summer time is originally connected to Buddhist tradition of Obon which is a festival of Souls. During this period, souls of departed ancestors come back to their houses. Dancing during this Obon period was called Bon-odori or Bon dancing.  It was a kind of religious ceremony held to send off these spirits.  But later it become local festivals of entertainment)

To end the annual summer festival of Niigata city, Hanabi show was provided by the city government on the 3rd day which is the Sunday evening from 7 to 9 pm. All these beautiful and powerful Hanabi have been sponsored by local private companies and before they are fired to the evening sky, names of these sponsors are announced. A member of the Cathedral parish invited us to go up to her apartment roof top to enjoy the view with good glasses of beer. I can not show you the real picture of Hanabi this evening. It was too far a way to take photos and, in fact in such a hot and humid summer evening, drinking beer is much more important than watching Hanabi.

Study Session on Peace for the Catholic 10 days for peace in Japan@Niigata

Annual peace memorial events of Catholic Church in Japan which is called the Catholic 10 days for Peace was celebrated as usual in all over the diocese in Japan.  It starts on 6 August which is the memorial day of Hiroshima A-bombing and ends on 15 August which is the last day of the II WW or Pacific War. Of course Nagasaki A-bombing day which is 9 August is included. Catholic dioceses in Japan organize events for this 10 days but both Hiroshima and Nagasaki dioceses usually organize quite major events.

In Niigata, because of several reasons, we are unable to organize major events during this 10 days so that we usually have at least one study session and a Mass for peace around this time.  This year in Niigata, we invited Fr. Masaru Ota of the Littele Brothers of Jesus on 29 July for a study session and I presided over the Mass for Peace after the talk in Cathedral.

Fr Ota, who used to be a secretary of the Human Rights Commission of the Bishops' Conference,  spoke about the Christian perspective to understand the nuclear accident in Fukushima

I have been repeating this same point but, I do understand that politicians or business people or scientists must have worked sincerely with all their effort to protect and promote values which they believe the best for future development for human welfare.  The present situation of our society must be the result of their efforts.  If so, as people living in faith, what do we say about the present situation of our society from our perspective which is the value of God.  All the creatures have to be protected because they are said "Good" by God and more over we have to promote that the human lives have to be given the priority in this society.  It is crystal clear even after this disaster in Japan which is natural disaster and man-made nuclear disaster, majority in power still give preferences to the value contrary to the value we believe in.  We have to speak up.

Jul 22, 2012

Confirmation in Niitsu, Niigata city

Confirmation Mass in Niitsu Catholic Church in Niigata city today. A young medical student was confirmed during the Mass.  Photo is with his mother and the parish priest, Fr. Kamata who is already over 84 but very strong and sharp.  The student also plays organ and was an organist during the Mass today.

Catholic Church in Niitsu used to be a SVD parish and was the last SVD run parish in Niigata  and Shibata district in Niigata prefecture of my diocese.  The round shape chapel was built by Fr. Oswald Muller, SVD, who is now on retirement in Odate, Akita.  The present parish hall and a rectory together with KG building was completed by Fr. Kamata who has talent for buildings.

The community is not so big.  Today we had around 30 people for Mass and also members are aging.  Niitsu used be a prosperous city with rail way related industry as crossing point of 2 major rail lines.  JR East still has their own factory to produce trains in Niitsu and majority of commuter trains in Tokyo have been made in Niitsu.  The city was also famous for its production of oil.

Now the city of Niitsu has been amalgamated with Nigata city a few years ago, it is expected to be a housing area for greater Niigata area.  At least the Catholic KG in Niitsu which is annexed to the Church is doing alright so that there are still enough hope for the future of evengelisation in the area.

I have been to Sapporo yesterday, Saturday morning, to give a talk to more than 90 participants for the formation seminar for "Catechists" organised by the Sapporo district.  The participants attended 16 seminars since January 2011 and mine was the last one to conclude the year and half long course.  As the number of active priests in Sapporo district are decreasing, selected faithfuls have been trained to assist those people seeking for baptism.  Good idea.  I shared mostly my own experience in Osonson, Ghana as a parish priest with more than 20 outstations for 7 years.  I was alone there for at least 5 years and more than 40 volunteer catechists helped me a lot.

 Well according to the original idea of priests of the district, they are not trained to be real Catechist as such who teaches Catechism.  Rather they are to be people to accompany those who are seeking for baptism and encourage them through sharing of their own faith experiences.

I hope they will be continue to be formed to become true lay leaders of the parish communities in Sapporo so that in near future, these lay leaders could work together with priests and religious as a team.  Also I hope from among these trained, some one could be trained to be ordained as permanent deacons..

These days of traveling up and down have been giving my body quite tough time and I had to endure through severe back pain yesterday and today.  Today during the Confirmation Mass, I wanted to keep my pastoral staff (crosier) from the beginning to end of Mass.

Jul 4, 2012

New Superior General for SVD

Society of the Divine Word or Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) has been holding its general assembly in Nemi, outskirts of Rome, since the end of June.  SVD's general assembly are held every 6 years.  Present Superior General, Fr. Tony Pernia, was elected to the post during the 2000 General Assembly which I took part as a provincial superior of Japan.  Term of office for the Superior General is usually 12 years and, therefore, the general assembly had to elect new superior general to succeed Fr. Pernia.

After days of reporting and also spiritual reflections, the assembly hold the election for the post on 3 July and Fr. Heinz Kulueke has been elected with absolute majority to the post of Superior General.  Fr. Heinz was born in Germany in 1956 and ordained a priest in 1986.  He has been working in the Southern Province of Philippines since he was ordained.  He has a doctorate in Philosophy and, thus, has been a professor of Philosophy in University of San Carlos in Cebu.  He has been a provincial superior of Philippine South for exceptional 3 term.

At the same time, he has been quite well known as a real active missionary to be with poor and oppressed in the area.

Congratulations for Fr. Heinz and may God bless you and guide you.  Photo above is taken by Fr. Daisuke Narui from Japan.  Fr. Tony Pernia congratulating his successor.  Thank you Tony for your good and dedicated service for 12 years.

Jun 16, 2012

National Sendai Support Meeting by CBCJ

Japanese Bishops Conference (CBCJ) has organised a meeting of representatives from all 16 dioceses and from male and female religious congregations in Japan to share information and ideas on the rehabilitation effort of Sendai Diocese after the March 11 disaster.  This meeting in Sendai on 13 June at Sendai Cathedral was the second meeting of this kind to be organized by the Bishops' Conference Sendai Support Desk which I am in charge of.  

More than 60 people joined the 3 day event in the diocese.   First 2 days were dedicated for on-site tours by participants. Participants were divided into several groups to visit volunteer bases in the diocese.   There are 3 volunteer bases run by Sendai diocese, Kamaishi, Yonekawa and Ishinomaki.  Also 3 ecclesiastical provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki also run their own volunteer bases within Sendai diocese in Fukushima, Ohunato and Otsuchi respectively and Sapporo diocese has one in Miyako.

After the 2-day tour of the disaster affected area which gave the participants deep insight of what had been going on the area and with local people, then they gathered in Sendai Cathedral in the morning of third day to listen to the sharing of those who have been working in several volunteer bases ans also number of local Catholic leaders who have been organising their own local NGOs to know the realities and needs of people. After lunch, Mass was celebrated with many more people joined from the diocese. The cathedral was packed. Bishop Hiraga of Sendai presided over the Mass with 3 other bishops, Bishop Suwa, Bishop Hamaguchi and myself.  I gave a homily.

Jun 14, 2012

Pastoral Council held in Sapporo Diocese

I have been in my second diocese, Sapporo, to attend its Pastoral Council in a hotel in Sapporo city from 1st to 3rd June.  (Photo: left is Fr.Uesugi, my VG and right is Fr. Katsuya, the president of the former priest council)

As you all know it quite well but I have been an apostolic administrator of Sapporo since November 2009 in addition to my own diocese, Niigata.  We are waiting for an new appointment of a bishop for the diocese more than 6 years since the previous bishop, still strong at 81, turned 75.

Though, strictly speaking, the pastoral council does not exist while the diocesan see is vacant, I thought it wise to organize such a gathering of representatives from priests, religious and laity among in this huge diocese to have discussion or our present situation to provide enough information for new bishop to make any decisions for the future of the diocese once he is appointed.  Also as the diocesan vision had never been discussed after it was decided in 1997, I thought it wise to ask the council to reflect on the validity of the vision..

34 people attended the 3-day meeting which was concluded with Sunday Mass.

May 19, 2012

Caritas meeting finished in Rome

A group photo of the representative council of Caritas Internationalis taken on 18 May in front of its head office in Rome.

As it has been made public, the revised statute and internal rules have been granted definite approval from Holy See on 2 May with an official decree by Cardinal Bertone.

It all started in 2004 when Holy Father JPII granted Canonical Legal Status to Caritas Internationalis.  Since then, revision of the statute and internal rules have been a priority task for both Caritas and the secretariat of State.  In 2011, general assembly of Caritas approved the revised text of the statute and internal rules and submitted it to the Holy See for approval "ad experimentum."

Then on 2 May, it was made public that with certain changes and additions, the Holy See finally granted definite approval for the statute and internal rules.

Now because of nature of additions and changes made between the last assembly to this approval, quite negative image has been created over the intention of the Holy See especially in the provision of Papal appointment of 3 members to the Executive Board, creation of support committee to Secretary General which will be appointed by Cor Unum and giving quite a many task to supervise Caritas activities by Cor Unum.

Though I am also quite surprised to know about these changes and felt that, to be honest, Caritas activities were now under control of Holy See, however, after I listened to the explanation on their intention for these changes made by an official from the secretariat of state during the representative council, I now am able to say with confidence that Holy See has good intention and supportive will to assist Caritas activities because it is essential action of the Church and also brought Caritas into Vatican.  As a juridical entity in the system of the Holy See, Caritas Internationalis has to fulfill certain obligation to safeguard its own image and dignity and also of the Church.

With this definite approval, now Caritas Internationalis is able to act and speak for the Church with certain authority and execute its activities to represent and manifest the spirit of charity of Catholic Church.  I hope and pray that Holy Spirit may guide this new way of being Caritas, especially newly created Executive board which will meet more than 4 times a year to make final decisions on the direction of activities of Caritas.

May 14, 2012

Sado pilgrimage

The laity council of Niigata district organised a pilgrimage to Sado island over the weekend to the 100 Christian martyrs tomb in the island.  More than 50 people, mostly from parishes in Niigata city, joined the pilgrimage with Fr. Yamagashira, the district superior, Fr. Ohtaki, the diocesan chancellor and myself.  Parish in Sado is not so big but majority of the parishioners joined the group for Saturday evening meal and Sunday Mass with their parish priest, Fr. Kawasaki.  At the same time, parishioners of Naoetsu led by their pastor, Hubert Nerskamp, ofm, traveled with centenary anniversary crucifix for the diocese to hand it over to Sado parish.

The pilgrimage was organised as one of activities of Niigata diocesan centenary celebration.  We left Niigata at 9:30 am on Saturday by a ferry boat to Sado island.  It was a rough ride on Saturday for 2 and half hours.  Upon arrival, we were taken to the history museum and Sado gold mine museum.  Sado island used to be a quite famous gold mining island and number of criminals, including political one and also persecuted Christians were among the workers almost 400 years ago.  In early 17th century under the prohibition law by the then government, almost 100 Christians were executed in the mine and buried at the mountain top of Nakayama Toge.  We now call the place "Kirishitan Duka" or 100 Christian tomb.

Mass was offered at the tomb under beautiful May blue sky.

May 5, 2012

Seminar on revised immigration law in JPN

Immigration law and related regulations of Japanese government have been revised and will be in force on 9 July this year. Though the revision was made in July 2009, adequate information has not been disseminated among expatriate residents in, especially, rural area like our diocese. So there will be a seminar organised by the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move in several cities in Japan. And one will be organised in our diocese in Takada on 2 June.

The seminar will start at 1pm to 3pm in Catholic Takada Church. You have to register by 27 May to join the seminar, if you wish to attend. Please refer to the link below.  You may contact Takada Catholic Church directly to register also.  See this link.

Photo above is beautiful girls of Terao Catholic Church in Niigata city on 29 April after Sunday Mass.  Two of them, one in extreme right and one in extreme left received their first communion during the Mass.  A lady in front of me is a volunteer Catechist of the parish who prepared girls for the sacrament.  Congratulations.  

May 4, 2012

Medical consultation for foreign residents in Niigata

There will be an annual medical assistance event for non-Japanese residents in Niigata city on 10 June.  The event which is called "The Fifth Medical Consultation Room for Foreign Residents" will be held at Crosspal Niigata Community Center (2086-3 Ishizue-cho-dori Chuo-ku, Niigata city.  It is close to Bandai-bashi) on 10 June from 10 am to 3:30 pm.

There will be several free check-ups including Mammography for breast cancer.  As for the detail see this link or this page. (In case you need blood test, then you have to book it with the committee by 14 May and have to go to a designated clinic between 21 to 26 May in order to receive the result on 10 June during the event.  Detail, please refer to the link above.)

The event was initiated by Dr. Fukushima and other Catholic Doctors in Niigata city 5 years ago in Niigata Cathedral Church.  As they had to ask for assistance from other medical staff in the city, they felt necessity to create a committee to involve more help from general public and also local government.  However, the annual event still maintains Catholic spirit as their base.  So you are welcome to take advantage of this medical assistance in Niigata.

Photo above is taken by Mr. Kawasaki of Sado parish last weekend when members of the Niigata district Laity Council had visited the "Kirishitan-zuka", the memorial site of Christian Martyrdom, in Sado island, 2 hours ferry ride from Niigata port, to prepare for May 12 and 13 pilgrimage organised by the Council as part of commemorative activities of the centenary of the Niigata Diocese.  Well, it seems as if the chairman of the council was tickling Jesus.  Thanks to the effort of Seminarians from Tokyo the other day and also for this exercise, the memorial site has been well prepared for the pilgrimage.

Apr 24, 2012

Seminarians visiting Niigata Diocese

From 24 to 27 April, 23 seminarians and 6 formators of Japan Catholic Major Seminary are visiting Niigata Diocese. The group consists of deacons and seminarians in Philosophy course. In Japan, at this moment, every seminarians from all together 16 dioceses have to join the National Major Seminary which has 2 separate campuses, one in Tokyo for Philosophy and the other in Fukuoka for Theology. After their ordination as deacon, they return to Tokyo for special one year course prepared for deacons. Unfortunately, there are no seminarians from Niigata Diocese at this moment. 

The group is led by Fr. Koshi ITO of Tokyo diocese, the vice rector. Fr. Ebe of Niigata and Fr. Otaki, the chancellor of the diocese and also a teacher of Philosophy of the seminary, joined the group to visit Sado. As their budget are limited, they will sleep at the Parish Hall of Sado Catholic Church, thanks to the hospitality of Fr. Kawasaki, the parish priest and my Vicar General.

In Sado island, they will visit the Hyakunin-zuka memorial of Christian martyrdom which occurred almost 400 years ago. As Niigata district of the diocese is planning to organise a pilgrimage on 12 and 13 May to the memorial, seminarians will clear the area and prepare for the event. Thank you for your prayer and hard work, seminarians.

They will return to Niigata on Thursday, 26. There will be Mass at 5 pm on 26 April in Niigata Cathedral with seminarians followed by a party. You are also welcome to join us to pray for the seminarians.

Apr 23, 2012

Japan or Taiwan?

A title of an article in certain web-page was astonishing enough to make me suspicious.  The site was the "" and it read as follows; "Japanese bishops hold neutrality on peaceful nuclear power".  According to the article, we, the Japanese bishops decided not to join the anti-nuclear demonstration on the anniversary of 11th March disaster in Fukushima.  Then the article continues as follows;

But the episcopal conference said that it would remain neutral on the subject of nuclear power production, following the lead of the Vatican. The Holy See has indicated cautious support for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  

I was really shocked to read this article since we, the Japanese Bishops, issued a public statement to call for immediate closure of nuclear power plants in Japan.  You may read the statement in this link.

It is not that Japanese Bishops are calling for abolishing all the existing nuclear power plants in all over the world.  But what we are saying is that considering magnitude of after effects of Fukushima disaster and considering the geographical condition of Japan which is prone to major earthquakes, it is against to human moral obligation to continue to maintain this technology in this country citing the present level of energy supply had to be maintained in order to uphold ultra modern life styles while it had been witnessed that the present scientific wisdom could not save nuclear power plants from such massive disaster as 11th March in Japan and no one knows what to do with its remaining wastes.  Therefore, Japanese Bishops are not taking neutral position on this issue.

When I read the article, I wondered about the demonstration which was mentioned in it.  As a member of the standing commission of the Bishops Conference, I never heard of such demonstration to which Japanese Catholic Church had been invited to join.  So I went to the referring article which was an article in the site called "Vatican Insider".

Then it was much more astonishing.   It wrote as follows;

On the anniversary of Fukushima’s nuclear disaster, in Japan, various creeds were set to form an international anti-nuclear movement, but it was not to be. In contrast with other religions, the Japanese Catholic Church did not attend the anti-nuclear demonstrations in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung.


Roughly seventy creeds and religions joined the appeal of the movement’s organizers who have been coordinated by a Buddhist nun, Shih Chao-Hwei. The conference of bishops and the Catholic congregations however refused to join in. The Japanese ChurchVatican has asked them to remain neutral in regards to nuclear power.

Something must be wrong with the one who had wrote this article.  This demonstration mentioned in the article is in Taiwan and not in Japan.  I asked the secretary general of the Japanese Bishops Conference about any invitation from Taiwan and he knew nothing about it.  Most probably, this bishops conference which expressed neutrality to the said demonstration in Taiwan must be the Chinese Regional Catholic Bishops' Conference which is in Taiwan and not the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan.  Japanese Bishops are taking clear position for this and, not only calling for the closure of the nuclear power plants in earthquake prone Japan, calling general public to re-examine our lavish life style which requires abundance of energy supply and make necessary adjustment according to Japanese cultural tradition.  In conclusion, the Japanese Bishops statement wrote as follows;

Japan has its culture, wisdom and tradition that have long co-existed with nature. Religions such as Shinto and Buddhism are also based on the same spirit. Christianity has the spirit of poverty as well. Therefore, Christians have an obligation to bear genuine witness to the Gospel especially through the ways of life expected by God; “simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice”. We should choose anew a simple and plain lifestyle based on the spirit of the Gospel, in cases like saving electricity. We live in the hope that science and technology will develop and advance based on the same spirit. These attitudes will surely lead to a safer and more secure life without nuclear plants.

Apr 21, 2012

Spring has arrived in Niigata

Japan is an archipelago stretching from north to south and it is quite long.  Last week I was in Okinawa for the Catholic Volunteer Association as I have mentioned in the post below, I enjoyed almost summer weather of Okinawa with the highest of 27 degrees Celsius.  Then I returned to Niigata to join my diocesan priests for an overnight trip to Onsen (hot spring) for Easter celebration.  There was heavy accumulation of snow in mountain side of Niigata.  Cherry blooms are seasonal feature to declare that winter has finished and spring has began in Japan.  Although the cherry blooms are already completed in Tokyo area, it has just started in Niigata.  The local meteorological agency declared yesterday that cherry bloom has finally arrived Niigata.

Photo above is the Niigata Catholic Cathedral seen through cherry blossom on 20 April.   Photo below is clearing accumulated snow in Yamakoshi town in Niigata on 17 April.

Major seminarians studying in the Tokyo campus of the Japan National Catholic Seminary together with their formators are visiting Niigata area from 24, Tuesday, to 27, Friday.  Seminarians in Tokyo are the first and second year of Philosophy and Deacons.  All together 30 of them will visit Sado island for 2 days and make pilgrimage to the memorial of martyrdom of 100 Christians in Sado.  Then they will return to Niigata on 26, Thursday.  There will be a Mass in Niigata Catholic Cathedral Church with seminarians at 5 pm on 26 which will be presided by myself and will be followed by BBQ party with parishioners.  You are welcome to join us for both Mass and party.

As for pilgrimage to Sado, there will be another one for everyone in the diocese to visit the memorial of martyrdom of Sado on 12 and 13 May.  However, you have to register with your parish by tomorrow, 22 April, and it will cost you JPY 20,000.  You may also contact Mr. Ichikawa of Aoyama Parish who is the chairperson of laity council of the Niigata district. You may refer to the official homepage of the Niigata diocese in this link and may find e-mail address of Mr. Ichikawa at the bottom of the announcement.