Mar 26, 2013

Construction work of New Chancery Office started in Niigata

Construction work of a new Chancery Office of Niigata Diocese and a residence for its Bishop has started last week.  Present office and residence building, a two-storied wooden house, was built more than 80 years ago, though the exact date of construction is unknown since the diocese at that time bought an already existing structure and made necessary addition to it.

Decision to build a new structure for the diocese was made a few years ago when the diocese had been informed by the Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart in Fujisawa that they were to close their nursery school behind the Bishop's residence by March 2011.  Since then, a committee was formed both by priests and laity to discuss about the future plan of the Cathedral property.  The Committee came up with idea to demolish the nursery school and also the present residence and build a new one on the ground ofthe nursery school.  An existing two storied building behind the Bishop's residence which used be a minor seminary will remain and be used as a residence for retired priests of the diocese. I agreed with the proposal immediately since the Japanese government has been planning to increase sales tax from April, 2014. The sales tax in Japan also applies on construction works.

In order to demolish the closed nursery school building, a part of the Bishop's residence had to be demolished first so that heavy machines would be able to reach the nursery school area. Also the committee decided, in order not to spend too much money, and, of course as a tiny diocese with only seven thousand Catholics, the diocese does not have enough fund, to build a single story flat for both a chancery office and a residence for its bishop.

So during last two weeks, part of the present bishop's house, a dinning room and a kitchen section, was demolished.  The construction company, Shibata Kensetsu, says they may be able to demolish the former nursery school by the end of April and to begin the construction work for a new building by the beginning of May.  By the time they finish with the new building, then the present residence building will be demolished.  The entire construction activities may finish by the end of this year.

As I mentioned, the diocese has not enough money to cover the cost of this construction.  We have only 58% of the cost which is, including the cost for demolishing works and that is costing us quite a lot, USD 1.8 million.  In Niigata diocese, I have made an appeal to make special collections for next several years to contribute for this project. The new building is not only a house for bishop but will include office and meeting spaces for the diocese.  Your donations will be appreciated.  

Mar 25, 2013

The rite of Lector for Sapporo

The rite to confer the ministry of lector in Sapporo Diocese was held on 20 March in Kitaichijo Parish Church which is the cathedral of Sapporo diocese. Today is a public holiday in Japan, Spring Equinox Day, and number of public functions, such as graduation ceremony for schools or ordination Mass for several dioceses, take places all over Japan.
The ministry of lector calls candidates to be servants of the Living Word of God.  Their duties are not only proclaiming the readings at liturgy. They do more than simply read. They are to prepare candidates for sacraments of initiations through catechism classes and also to proclaim gospel message to people all over the world.

Mr. Paul Ken-ichi Sato, photo above with me, received the rite and given his ministry as the lector during the Mass. He entered the National Major Seminary 3 year ago and just finished his first year of Theology which is the end of his third year in the priestly formation. At this moment, the National Major Seminary has two campuses, one in Tokyo and the other in Fukuoka.  The Fukuoka one serves as three-year theologate and Tokyo one houses two years of Philosophy and a year of special course for deacons. Sapporo diocese has all together 3 seminarians at this moment.   There is one in Fukuoka and the other one in Tokyo.  Then one has already passed the entrance exam and ready to join the formation course after this Easter. Kindly remember these seminarians and continue to pray for their vocation.  Also we need your strong prayer so that there will be more youths to decide to be priests in Catholic Church in Japan.

By the way, for your information, I do not have any seminarians for my own diocese, Niigata.

Mar 23, 2013

Sendai Support Meeting @ Otsuchi, Iwate

The 19th session of the Sendai Diocese Support Meeting was held on 22 March in Otsuchi town, Iwate prefecture. Otsuchi is one of these coastal towns which were badly hit by March 11 tsunami.  Nagasaki Ecclesiastical Province had opened their volunteer base in December, 2011.  Since then, Fr. Furuki, SDB, who had been assigned by Nagasaki archdiocese as its director, has been working hard to accommodate volunteers not only from Kyushu area but from all over Japan.

Since the Tsunami disaster, it was my second visit to Otsuchi town. I attended the opening ceremony of the base in December, 2011, as I have posted before.  After two solid years since the disaster, town was still yet to be rebuild.  As you can see from the photo above, reconstruction plan of the local government has not been finalised and majority of people in the town are staying in temporary shelters.  Most of the disaster hit towns are yet to finalise their own reconstruction plans or still unable to execute them since "consensus building" is the must in community lives in Japan.

The Sendai Diocese Support Meeting is a monthly gathering of heads of several rescue and rehabilitation operations of Catholic Church within Sendai diocese. Three Bishops representing three provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki, myself as representative of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Hiraga of Sendai, other officials of Sendai diocese and members of Caritas Japan.  You may download the 2013 report of activities of Caritas Japan's rescue operation from this link.

Prior to the meeting in Otsuchi, Fr. Furuki, the director, took us, around 20 of us to attend the meeting, to a hill behind the volunteer base.  Photo above is how you can see the town of Otsuchi from the hill top.  As we returned to the base, a chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Otsuchi town, Mr. Kikuchi was waiting us to share his vision for future of the town with us.  I did not realise until his sharing, the road in front of the base used be a central shopping district of the town with many shops.  Now what we can see is only a couple of vending machines of soft drinks.  Needless to say but it will take time for people to re-gain "normal lives".

At least the exterior of the base building has been completely changed.  Now it has shinning and beautiful wall paintings of a tree and rainbow which had been done by a group of artists from Taiwan in August, 2012 as a symbol of friendship between two countries. 

As we have just celebrated the third anniversary of the disaster in Tohoku Japan, we would like to thank you again for your prayers and contributions.  Kindly remember victims in your prayer.


Mar 5, 2013

Enjoying cold winter in Japan

I was in Yamagata city on 23 February for a board meeting of Catholic KGs. Yamagata city is within my diocese, Niigata Diocese. To reach Yamagata, I had to take train this time because it was not advisable to drive on snowy and icy road as we have heavy snow fall this winter, more than double that of usual years. There is no motorway connection and I have to climb and pass 2 mountains between Niigata and Yamagata.  Well, it took me more than 5 hours to travel by train,though it was that famous bullet train of Japan which goes over 200km per hour.  I had to travel down to Tokyo and change a train to continue to Yamagata. 

That is one of realities of mission territory such as Japan. Well I have to drive more than 8 hours to reach a parish in northern end of my diocese and it is almost impossible to make on time travel during winter season. A day after my trip to Yamagata, the bullet train between Tokyo and Yamagata got stuck in snow.  A few days ago, another bullet train between Tokyo and Akita which is also in my diocese was derailed by heavy snow. You may imagine that it is not easy to organise any diocesan events in such situation in my diocese.

Well my second diocese, Sapporo in Hokkaido has suffered worse winter this time.  Only a few days ago, there were terrible snow storm in Hokkaido, 8 people were killed including a 53-year-old father who lost his life while protecting his only daughter under him.  They were on their way home from local kids center. 

I was also in Sapporo a few days ago for a priest meeting and surprised to see heavy snow piled up on side walks.  This is my 4th winter as the apostolic administrator of Sapporo and I have never seen such heavy snow there.

Of course, I know the situation in diocese of Irkutsk in East Siberia which is much more harsh than our reality, though. Also cities in Niigata such as Tokamachi has been also suffering from quite heavy snow this winter.