Mar 25, 2014

We believe now, because we ourselves have heard him.

To those who are preparing for baptism during the Easter in 2014 in Niigata Diocese:

I am sure there are number of candidates preparing for baptism during this coming Easter in the diocese. As our diocese is quite large and it is not practical or is almost impossible to gather all these candidates in the diocese for a combined rite of election at the Cathedral, I am not sure how many elects are in the diocese at this moment. Unfortunately there are no candidates for baptism in the Cathedral parish this year. In the past, around 50 to 60 adult baptism are confered in all over the diocese every year.

Last Sunday on the Third Sunday of Lent, many of you might have experienced special rite called scrutiny in your parish. Even though in case there are no candidates in parish, the entire community prayed for you. Though Baptism is quite personal matter for your life but it is also the community matter. Entire Catholic communities of Niigata Diocese are walking with you throughout your spiritual journey and supporting you by our special prayers.

On the Third Sunday of Lent this year, story of Jesus with a Samaritan Woman from Gospel of John was read. Water given by Jesus "will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life". I think those who believe in Jesus are already given this spring within one's heart. However, unfortunately, our worldly thoughts quite often cover and hide the spring so that we do not enjoy this life-giving water.

In the first reading, people of Israel complained against Moses when they found their way ahead was not what they had expected. However that complaining turned out to be challenging against God. We have to always determine whether our way ahead is the way we just wish to happen or the way prepared by God which leads us to the spring of life. Many a time, such way prepared for us by God leads us to completely opposite direction from where we wish to go according to our human wisdom or judgement. Then we complain. We may even say God does not know the reality of our life. But that is the way of God.

I would like to remind all those who are preparing for baptism, one important point from the last part of the Gospel story of a Samaritan Woman.

At the end of this story, people of the town told the woman that "we believe now, not because of what you said, but because we ourselves have heard him, and we know that he really is the Savior of the world."

One of the most important action in our faith in Jesus Christ is self-determination. Our faith is not like depending on someones decision or believing what is written in a book or following someones directives. We can not just depend on others to maintain our faith. We have to make our own decision.

Probably we might have been motivated by others to come to Church. Probably we received the very basics of our faith from others such as parish priests. However, beyond these basics of our faith, we ourselves have to struggle to find out through our own encounter with Jesus. It is precisely "not because of what you said" but we meet him and find out who he is. Our life as Christian always demand us to make choices, to decide and to move on.

Then we do not do this decision making alone in isolation. We do so in our community. Church community is the place which give us general direction towards to God. With brothers and sisters of the community walking and supporting each other, we feel confident to make our own decision. So we need community to show us general direction to God. We are not alone but we are together with members of the community who also meet same Jesus.

As Jesus promised "for where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them (Mt.18:20)" we encounter Jesus in the Church community. He is there. Without our personal encounter with Jesus, we are not able to deepen our faith. At the same time, without community in His name, we can not maintain our faith.

After baptism, unfortunately, number of members just stop coming to Church. Coming to Church is not only fulfilling Sunday obligations. It is not that you are completing requirements for entering Heaven. You have to try your best to be with your community because there you meet Jesus and you are given general direction where you should head for. Then, as I have been saying, rest is all up to you to make your own decision and act.

Mar 4, 2014

Third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is approaching

The third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, 11 March, is approaching. Past three years, Catholic Church in Japan mobilized all the Catholic communities in Japan to assist the disaster hit area which is almost all under the Sendai Diocese with a title of the "All Japan" framework. Immediately after the disaster in 2011, Bishop Tani and myself together with Caritas Japan staff members went to Sendai to meet Bishop Hiraga of Sendai diocese and his chancellor, Fr. Komatsu on 16 March in which we decided to establish the Sendai Diocese Support Center (SDSC). That was the beginning of the "All Japan" framework to assist victims in Sendai diocese. Since then, Caritas Japan has been supporting all these activities of relief and rehabilitation in Sendai diocese with long term planning thanks to huge donations from Japan and abroad.

During last general assembly of Japanese Bishops in February, as I have mentioned, Bishops decided to continue this "All Japan" framework for another three years. Catholic Church in Japan will continue our efforts of rehabilitation and Caritas Japan is also ready to support these activities.

Obviously the leading role of reconstruction of the disaster hit area ought to be the local people of the area and Church should not continue the activities just to maintain status quo of our own initiatives. We have to foresee the termination of present activities one day. However, as we know, Church has been in Sendai diocese before the disaster, and it was in Sendai during the disaster and it will be in Sendai for years to come. That means Catholic Church in Japan will never stop our efforts to be with people in the disaster hit area, though our style of commitment may change.

So many people came to join our program as volunteers. There are a lot of different ways to support the local people in the area. Probably there might be some who feel sorry as they were not able to visit the area because of various reasons. In fact, I am also the one. When disaster happened in 2011, I was in charge of two dioceses, Niigata and Sapporo, and was just elected as president of Caritas Asia at that time. Then as a president of Caritas Japan, I was put in charge of the entire operation of the "All Japan" framework. So numerable meetings prevented me to find time to visit the disaster hit area. I am feeling sorry about this. At the same time, my own experience in Caritas activities for long time, such rehabilitation program requires both people on the ground and behind the lines. I hope everyone of us in Catholic Church in Japan to find our own and unique role in this "All Japan" operation and, even though one can not go to the disaster hit area, join the effort of Catholic community in Japan with ones unique way as a part of one body of Christ.  As a Christian, one can even support the activities with prayers. Also it is imperative to be sensitive to the information from the area.

I have a coordination team for the "All Japan" framework. This team coordinates all kinds of initiatives from Catholic communities in all over Japan to assist disaster hit area and also provides platform to exchange information. The team is managed by Fr. Kanda of Osaka diocese and Mr. Hamaguchi, an employee of Osaka diocese. Without these two men who have rich experiences of disaster relief management from Kobe earthquake in 1995, I could not achieve anything. Fr.Narui, SVD, the former Caritas Japan director has joined the team since he was appointed as the SVD generalate JPIC secretary as long as he has time to spare.

Caritas Japan has issued a report of activities in Sendai disaster hit area for past one year. You may find it both in Japanese and English and may download PDF file in this link.

This is the first time for Caritas Japan to organise such disaster relief operation inside Japan itself. We did collection of relief fund for victims of disaster in the past. But what we are doing at this moment is a long term rehabilitation program. On behalf of Caritas Japan, I would like to thank all of you who donated generously to support victims through our program in Sendai diocese. We will continue our efforts.

Bishops Conference of Japan is organising a commemorative Mass of the third anniversary of the disaster at 6 pm on 10 March at Sendai Cathedral, Motodera-Koji Catholic Church. You are welcome to join us.

President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan, Archbishop Peter Okada of Tokyo has made his message public in Japanese. You may read it in Japanese in this link.

In his message, Archbishop Okada highlighted importance of principle of subsidiarity in such relief operation. Though three ecclesiastical provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki, has established their own center for activities in disaster hit area, these activities are complementing the charitable action of local Catholic community of Sendai. Therefore, these provincial centers are part and parcel of charitable activities of Sendai diocese and not acting for its own merits.

Also in his message, Archbishop reiterated the contents of the November 2011 Bishops Message on abolition of nuclear power plants saying that the general direction of Japan after three years of the Fukushima accident is shifting opposite to what Bishops called for in the message. And he put emphasis on the importance of changing life style as necessary step to abolish nuclear power plant. It is not the matter of searching alternative energy sources without changing our life style which just consumes a lot of energy. The original message says as follows.
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. 

In Niigata diocese, all the parishes are asked to say commemorative Mass on Sunday 9th March. I will celebrate Mass at Niigata Cathedral at 9:30am on 9th March. You are welcome to join us in prayer. 


Mar 2, 2014

Appointments and transfers@Niigata Diocese

I have been to Akita over the weekend to attend a graduation ceremony of 170 students of Holy Spirit Girls High School in Akita. The school is run by SSpS sisters and has been considered as one of the most prominent girls only school in the area.Unlike in the case of major cities such as Tokyo, private schools are usually regarded as second choices for students. In general in rural areas, public high schools are regarded as better school than private schools. So without government subsidy, it is quite impossible to run private school in these rural area of Japan. In such a situation, though they also have their own peculiar issues to deal with, Holy Spirit High has been doing quite well. Such Catholic Schools are quite important for the Catholic Church in minority situation like Japan. These schools including our parish KGs provide us opportunity to meet people and talk about Christianity. Though we do not see many baptism from these students, graduates from Catholic schools could be called sympathizer of Christianity. Well congratulations to 170 graduates from the Holy Spirit High.

I am sure that appointments and transfers of Niigata diocese have been announced today in Parishes. Following is the list. (Photo. Top: train from Niigata to Akita. Second: Akita Catholic Church behind a frozen pond.)

Akita district
Fr.Angel Peralta, SVD:  Parish priest of Akita (from Kichijoji parish, Tokyo)
Fr.Felix Lobo, SVD: Parish priest of Noshiro (from Nishimachi parish, Nagasaki)
Fr.He Xiao-Feng, SVD: Associate pastor of Akita (Newly ordained)

Yamagata district
Fr. Hachiro Ban,SVD: Parish priest of Tsuruoka, Sakata (from Noshiro)
Fr.Martinus Pariyanto, SS.CC.: Parish priest of Yonezawa (from Hitachi, Saitama)

Transfer to other diocese
Fr.Sri Waluyo, SS.CC.
Fr.Misao Kawamata, SS.CC.
Fr.Pavol Filadelfi, SVD
Fr. Luis Fernando

Welcome to newly appointed Fathers and our appreciation and gratitude to those who are on transfer to other dioceses.