Feb 23, 2014

General Assembly of Japanese Bishops completed

Catholic Bishops of Japan has just completed their general assembly in Tokyo on 20 Feb with a Mass to commemorate the first anniversary of election of Pope Francis in the Jesuit Parish at the Sophia University, Tokyo. Archbishop Okada of Tokyo who is the president of the conference presided over the Mass while Archbishop Takami of Nagasaki delivered homily. Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Chennot delivered his message in perfect Japanese. Bishops are to meet again in Sendai on 10 March to pray for victims of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami in Sendai Cathedral at 6pm in Holy Eucharist. Apostolic Nuncio will also join the Sendai Mass. No photo of the Mass as I was also con-celebrating.

During the general assembly which started on Monday 17 Feb, Bishops decided, among others, to continue relief efforts mobilising entire communities of the Japanese Catholic Church in the disaster hit area for another 3 years. Already entire Catholic communities in Japan have been engaged to the action through the respective ecclesiastical provinces. Three Provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki have established volunteer bases in the area and have been sending volunteers while Caritas Japan has been supplying necessary materials and funds for the activities. These disaster hit area are,in fact, vast area but all under one diocese, Sendai.  So that Sendai diocese under Bishop Hiraga is in charge of entire operation in the area.

Bishops also adopted a new prayer to be used in entire Catholic Church in Japan to pray for victims and for quick recovery of the disaster hit area. At this moment, it is only in Japanese.

Japanese Bishops got unusual international attention recently because of a report sent to Rome. Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan have published a report in preparation of Synod on Family in October. You may read the contents of the report in this link in English. It is quite accurate account of Japanese Catholics in regard to their understandings of Catholic teachings on marriage and family. It seems not so many bishops' conferences have made this report public but it would be worth to know the situation in a mission territory like Japan.

Feb 14, 2014

New Year's Pastoral Letter, 2014 in English

"Living our Lives with Grateful Hearts"

Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata, Japan
As we begin a new year, I would like to thank all those who made a contribution to the special fund for the construction of a new bishop’s residence and diocesan offices, from those belonging to the Niigata Diocese, to those from other dioceses, and also to the religious congregations who generously donated. 

The work on the main building has been finished and we moved to the new residence in November of last year. However, there is still work to be done on the Vianney Residence Hall, the courtyard, and on the Cathedral itself and so it will still take some time till everything is finished. 

We plan to hold a ceremony to celebrate the completion of work on May 10 of this year. With this we can say that since our founding as a Vicariate (independent mission territory) 100 years ago, we have become not just self-sufficient but a central figure in the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel.  

It is with this in mind that I plan to fully utilize the residence and its offices to proclaim the Gospel and minister to the people. A detailed financial report of the donations and its use in the construction will be made at a later date and will be available to everybody.

Living with Grateful Hearts

The third year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami will be upon us in just a couple of months. From the very first days of that tragic event, the Catholic Church in Japan, with [ All Japan ] as its rallying cry, has lent its support to the Diocese of Sendai. The help it has shown has come in the form of volunteers who worked in the affected areas, those who provided logistical support, those who prayed and those who gave donations, plus others who gave other forms of support. In all of these activities, the Church communities have more than shown the diversity in its members. 

Much as I would like to say that with the passage of time the tsunami affected areas have bounced back, unfortunately that cannot be stated with some certainty. Catholic volunteer groups working in areas along the coast have given us regular reports almost on a daily basis through e-mails, and the consensus is that the road to recovery will not be a quick one. 

Among other things, because of the negative effects of the nuclear plant accident, there are still places in Fukushima where the residents cannot yet return to their own homes. There are still a lot of people who cannot see a clear future, and suffer from anxiety over health and everyday living conditions. We can only imagine how many people want to live ordinary lives but cannot do so even though what hinders them are things they could not control and was no fault of their own. 

Our diocese is one which is in close proximity to the Diocese of Sendai, and so rather than establishing an office in Niigata itself to oversee the help we give to Sendai, we deemed it much more personal and effective to let the parishes help and lend support in their own way. It is my hope that we will continue to extend a helping hand in whatever capacity we can to our brothers and sisters in need of assistance. 

Last year in November, typhoon number 30, International name: Haiyan. (Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) wrecked havoc in the Philippines. It specially did heavy damage to the island of Leyte and its neighboring islands. The death toll was enormous. We know that there are many Filipinos living in our diocese, and there are those among them whose relatives and acquaintances were among the typhoon victims. The various parish communities and their Filipino parishioners have already begun their respective drives in order to raise funds and donations for those affected by this calamity. The community at Shinjo Church have been televised offering their prayers, and people living in their vicinity have personally brought their donations to the church. 

While Caritas Japan has established a fund for the recovery of the affected areas, please do not forget our brothers and sisters from the Philippines who belong to our parishes and give them whatever support you can offer, be it prayers or material and financial donations. 

During the Great East Japan Earthquake we were given courage by the solidarity that people from all over the world afforded us. Our fears turned into hope, and instead of anxiety we were given peace of mind. During that time, we received from the Philippine Church messages of support, together with prayers and monetary contributions. With grateful hearts, let us now remember how important it is to help and support one another. If we have received much, let us show our gratitude by practicing our faith with acts of love for those in need. 

During the General Audience of Pope Francis in Nov 6 of last year, he said the following: 

“Without love no gift or charism could serve the Church, for where there is not love there is an emptiness that becomes filled with selfishness….that is why it is necessary that love unite us. Our smallest gesture of love benefits everyone! Therefore, to live out unity in the Church and communion in charity means not seeking one’s own interests but sharing the suffering and the joy of one’s brothers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26), ready to carry the weight of the poorest and the weakest. This fraternal solidarity is not a figure of speech, a saying, but an integral part of the communion among Christians. If we live it, we are a sign to the world, the “sacrament” of God’s love.” 

With a solidarity based on fraternal love, let us work towards making our church communities a “Sign of God’s Love” by our loving service for one another.

Living Out our Mission Statement 

When we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Niigata Diocese in October, 2012, we also came out with our Mission Statement. This was produced as a result of discussions made by the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. This will be our priority as we start anew the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel. During the Diocesan Centennial celebrations we received from many of people their signed mission statements along with their personal resolutions. We have kept all of these in the Diocesan Offices. I presume that those who submitted their signed statements have a copy of their own which they keep in their person. It is my hope that you look at it once in a while in order to remind yourselves of your promises and gain renewed energy in order to fulfill those promises. Let us also pray for God’s strength as we acknowledge our own weaknesses, so that we might be given the courage to strive and achieve our goals. 

At the beginning of this year, let us once again review our Centenary Mission Statement: 

[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 the 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 the 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 the 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 with 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 who heads 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.] 

From the day that we had our centennial celebrations, we have joined the Church worldwide in observing the Year of Faith. As we spent our days living in the Year of Faith as inheritors of the gift of faith, we once again reviewed the origins of that faith, and renewed our belief that “Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with Him (Door of Faith, 10 ), we deepened our resolve to witness to our faith through our words and actions. In that time, Pope Francis, a person who embodied living the Gospel values in word and deed was elected head of the Church. In addition, the Diocese of Niigata participated in the [Night of Prayer with our Lady] organized by the Diocese of Rome. A number of Marian pilgrimage sites were selected from around the world, with the Handmaids of the Servants of the Eucharist in Akita being one of them. We were again able to experience the joy in our faith by joining people around the world in prayer. This prayer event has only reinforced my belief that the convent is an essential part of our journey towards spiritual growth in the diocese. Grateful for the chance to once again examine how we live out our own faith, let us renew also our commitment to be proclaimers of the Gospel of Christ. 

In conclusion 

As we begin the new year, we also have new things happening in the Diocese.  In the Nagaoka District of Niigata Prefecture, the parishes of Omotemachi and Fukuzumi in Nagaoka City have merged to become the Nagaoka Catholic Church. We formally inaugurated the new parish with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Jan. 5. The two parishes have rich histories and traditions, and I believe that it was a big decision for them to agree to this merger. Many factors were considered including the lack of priestly ministers, the aging parish population, transportation convenience, and the management and maintenance of the buildings. It was only after a series of consultations from both parishes over a number of years, and after consultations with me as head of the Diocese, that the committee in charge was finally able to submit a plan to merge the two parishes. The decision was for the church in Omotemachi to be the new parish center. I would like to express my gratitude to those who made the difficult decision to merge with courage and with love, at the same time acknowledging that the decision was not without pain and sacrifice. 

Vocations to the priesthood remain at dangerously low levels. Of course, it is the Lord who calls so this is not a problem we can solve on our own. However, it may be the case that there are young people in our Diocese who just are not aware yet that they are being called. Let us continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life and that the young people who are called might find the courage to answer God’ s invitation. 

On April 29 of this year, there will be a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. We would like to already request the delegates to prepare reports on the outcome of the various activities during the recently concluded Year of Faith, and the efforts being made on the priorities of the Diocese. It has also come to our attention that parish councils in the diocese have various ways of managing their respective parishes. We would like to have time to exchange ideas as to whether it would be good to adopt just one management system or whether we need to come up with a totally new system of parish management. We would like the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council to gather the opinions of their respective constituents already as preparation. 

Once again, may God the Father in heaven, who is merciful and loving , shower everyone with abundant blessings specially at the beginning of this new year.

Feb 1, 2014

Earthquake and Tsunami victims support meeting @ Ofunato

The 26th Sendai diocese support meeting took place on 30 January at the Jinomori Ikoino-ie in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture. The Jinomori Ikoino-ie is a volunteer center (base) run by Osaka eccesiastical province and a part of continuous effort of entire Japanese Catholic Church to support rehabilitation program of Sendai diocese. The entire program has been called the "All Japan" program. For the meeting in Ofunato, each of three provinces in Japan sent their bishop in charge, namely Bishop Hamaguchi for Nagasaki province, Bishop Suwa for Osaka province and Bishop Koda for Tokyo province. I attended as a bishop in charge of the "All Japan" and Bishop Hiraga of Sendai was also present as a chair of the meeting. All together 14 people were in presence.

Prior to the meeting in the morning, we invited 4 local people to share the situation and difficulties in the area. As we could see while we were in Ofunato, tsunami hit area has not been rehabilitated as such. Most of the damaged buildings have been demolished but new construction has not been started. The local people told us about this delay of reconstruction. It is mainly because  the government employs laws and regulations for ordinary times for such reconstruction program and not for emergency situation. So especially in Tsunami hit area, reconstruction has been taking too much time as local governments have to have unanimous agreement from entire landowners before they could start any new construction programs. So naturally it takes time.

The tsunami hit area was already less populated and aging area before the disaster. As majority have to live in refuge for already three years, some started to leave the area and settled in other communities. It will be very difficult to re-create communities in these area. People are suffering from just waiting for something to happen.

According to the government statistics, around 270 thousand (270,000) people are still in refuge in all over Japan. Many of them are still living in temporary housings. Catholic Volunteers operates Cafe in many temporary housing area to provide opportunity for people to share their stories and spend time together.

In Ofunato and also other similar coastal areas, subsided land after the earth quake has been big problem. The local governments have resolved that landfill would be only solution to protect people from future tsunami. To do so, all the remaining buildings have to be demolished, though some of them are in practical use at this moment, and land ownerships have to be readjusted. I wonder how long it may take to complete all these process to begin building new communities in the area.

In Ofunato, railway line has been destroyed. Railway company gave up to reconstruct the line and replaced it with bus service. You may see from the photo above. This is a "railway crossing" for Bus service.