Dec 28, 2015

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Homily of the midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at Niigata Cathedral.

My dear brothers and sisters,
Merry Christmas.

Year after year, We gather together in this Cathedral in the evening of 24 December to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Yes, we also gather again during the daytime on 25th to celebrate the Christmas, however, the most important moment for the celebration of Christmas is in this evening celebration. We all know that nowadays majority of people in Japan celebrates Christmas even among non-Christians in the evening on 24th and that is really fitting for the celebration even though they do not realize the real meaning of it. Let me explain it.

As we see from the Gospel reading this evening, the birth of Jesus took place during the night. It said that "there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock" However, repeating what is written in the Gospel is not the reason of what I am talking about.

The Gospel continues as follows; "the angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them." So it was light. It was bright light shinning in the darkness. It was the bright light which struck shepherds with great fear.

In the first reading, prophet Isiah wrote "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone"

Who are these "people who walk in darkness" or "who dwell in the land of gloom"?

Few months after the massive earthquake and tsunami which hit Tohoku in 2011, I visited the disaster hit area. Toward evening, as there were no electricity in the area, darkness prevailed. There were no house lights nor street lights. Only darkness prevailed. While standing in the midst of this darkness, I started feel uneasiness, anxiety or even fear. I was sure that darkness produced negative energy for those evacuated in the shelters, negative energy which easily destroy people's hope for the future. Negative effects of darkness were what I felt physically that night.

What kind of reality are we living in today? Fear for terrorism. No one knows what will happen next and where that might take place. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail in this world today. In Japan, we are not able to expect bright future with economic development anymore. The reality of fewer kids and aging society makes us wonder about our future. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. On an global scale, climate change has been affecting so many people severely especially in so-called under-developed countries but also us in the so-called developed countries and no one knows clear future of our common house, the earth. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. We are, therefore, the "people who walk in darkness", aren't we? We are, therefore, the people "who dwell in the land of gloom", aren't we? Many of us are increasingly dominated by uneasiness, anxiety and fear caused by inability to see clear future because we are in deep darkness.

Some months after the first visit to the disaster hit area, I again made another visit to the same town for Caritas meeting. We met in a former hotel building which survived the tsunami and had been used as Caritas Volunteer center. As we finished the meeting, I got out of the building only to be amazed by the sight. The building was a shining tower in the midst of deep darkness. Electricity was provided by a generator in the building and the town did not have electricity yet.

If it were in ordinary town, the light of this tinny hotel was nothing more than one of many lights in the town. Or even, no one would have noticed that there were lights in this building. Just a part of ordinary scenery of the town in the night. However, because of prevailing deep darkness, such ordinary and small light was shining through like the beacon of bright hope, defeating all the uneasiness, anxiety and fear of the people. The small light of the building became the source of hope for many.

Jesus was born as small baby. Hope for whole humankind was just a small light in darkness. That is the reason why the Church celebrate Christmas in darkness in the night. That is the reason why we, just before we started the Mass, had small candle for each one of us in the darkness of this chapel so that we may feel brightness of such a small candle lights. Even small lights can shine through to brighten people's heart in deep darkness. What we need is this small light of hope in all our hearts to overcome darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear.

We are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy now. People living in darkness with uneasiness, anxiety and fear are tend to live in mutual distrust. How can people trust each other while they are not sure about tomorrow's fate? I feel that the mutual distrust may results judgmental tendency among us. Good or bad? Friend or foe? Yes or No? As we are pressed to make judgment in order to be relieved from anxiety and fear, we tend to jump to conclusion. That is the reason why we tend to be judgmental and easily label others that they are good or bad. Generosity, tolerance and joy have no space to survive in such a society. Mercy is forgotten.

We find, these days, in internet and TV shows the heartwarming stories quite often. Why do we love to know these heartwarming stories? Why people love to watch such TV shows? Because, in reality, heartwarming experiences are missing. In the judgmental society, generosity, tolerance and joy disappear and we are hungry for story of love and mercy. Today's world needs mercy of God much more than before to escape from captivity of darkness.

For all of us living in the darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear, light has been given. The light is Jesus, the new born baby, who is mercy of God, who is love of God. Mercy and love of God is what we need to light our small candle, candle which brings generosity, tolerance and joy to the world.  


Dec 14, 2015

Opening of the Door of Mercy at the Niigata Cathedral

The extraordinary jubilee year of Mercy has started on 8 December and will conclude on 20 November, 2016. In Niigata Cathedral, beginning of the Jubilee Year was celebrated with Holy Eucharist with number of priests and faithful attended at 11 am on 8 December. Before the Jubilee was announced, diocese had planned a day of Advent recollection for priests on 7 December. Since number of priests who are usually scattered around the diocese were gathering together for the recollection, we decided to organize opening Mass on 8 Dec. so that faithful might feel unity of the Church by being with several priests and bishop for this special occasion. 18 Priests and more than 60 people joined the Mass.

Then on 13 December, Sunday, Mass for opening of the Door of Mercy was celebrated at the Cathedral with more than 120 people. (Photos) I presided the Mass joined by Fr.Ngaji, SVD, assistant parish priest and Fr.Itagaki from Sendai diocese who was with us as a retreat preacher for the parish advent recollection.

We started the Mass from the Parish Hall and made procession to the main gate of the Cathedral which is designated as the Door of Mercy. There are all together 4 Door of Mercy in the diocese, namely Cathedral, Takada parish, Yamagata parish and Akita parish. You are invited during this jubilee year to make a pilgrimage to one of these Door of Mercy in the diocese, enter to the church through the door, go to confession, attend the Mass, receive communion and pray for the intention of Holy Father with special prayer of the jubilee composed by Holy Father himself in order to receive indulgence.

Mercy is needed in today's world more than before where people are living in darkness created by mistrust among each other. Darkness prevails particularly at the time when world security has been challenged by terror or threat of terrorism which, in many cases, produce invisible accumulation of fear. When we don't trust each other then we begin to judge each other. What a judgemental society we are living today. At home in Japan, we have to look around ourselves. Are we not talking about military threat from our neighboring countries as everyday talk? In the country where the phrase "War on Terror" has become so familiar with daily life,such as so in Japan today, it is quite difficult to talk with reason that the retaliation with force only promotes vicious circle of violence. People overtaken by fear have no ear to listen to such admonition. Feeling of mistrust and intolerance prevails in darkness today.

Meanwhile we have to think about what is the main force pushing this country, Japan, to maneuver through global village in modern days. Economy gain? Military ambition? Where is our moral principle? Country which has so-called Peace Constitution should have the leading voice with moral principle to persuade people to come out from darkness of mistrust to create real peace in this world.

But what is the reality? Are we not choosing the way to go deeper into darkness? We need to feel Mercy of God. We need to feel that God unconditionally encompass all of us, no exception, with his Mercy because he loves all of us. Church is, through this jubilee year, trying to be a beacon of hope shinning in this darkness to invite people to be filled by God's Mercy and love. Here in the Church, everyone should find consolation and joy of forgiveness so that we may be able to console each other and share our joy to escape from the darkness of mistrust. "As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.(Misericordiae Vultus 9)"

Holy Father also invites all of us to be witness of Mercy of God as he wrote; "the Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.(Misericordiae Vultus 12)"

So throughout the Jubilee year, we have to try to be witness of Mercy of God through our own words and deeds and also action of our parishes and groups. Then what can we do in this diocese? This is quite a challenge for all of us in this diocese where no particular crisis are happening as such. If we are directly involved in natural disasters or war or refugee crisis or starvation or draught, etc, it would be clear for all of us that what action we should take. But these are, fortunately, not in our case. Then we have to seriously think how we could be witness of Mercy of God or "an oasis of mercy" in this situation? Perhaps, we should better broaden our perspective a bit more. Holy Father wrote as follows; "in this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! (Miseridordiae Vultus 15)" Yes, the today's world is waiting for our action.

Nov 20, 2015

Have courage to stop vicious circle of violence !

It is so sad to witness again and again such brutal ends of so many innocent lives such as what happened in Paris recently. As we, Catholics, believe that human life is the most precious gift from God, we do not agree with any justification on the cause of such violent attacks over human life.

As Holy Father said, "there is no religious or human justification for it. This is not human" Well, retaliation by violence against violence may produce a kind of solution. However this solution would be only for short term or temporary.  Of course, in order to execute huge violence such as the recent Paris terrorist attacks, financial resources, organisational structure and man-power are indispensable. Therefore as long as retaliation by force could minimise such resources, then violence attacks might be ceased. But that would be a kind of supportive measures and could not touch the real cause of violence. Real cause of such brutal violence exists in our hearts, in our emotions. Armed power cannot control emotional hatred rooted deep in our hearts.

I hope this sad incident in Paris would not increase our hatred against specific group of people, or not make general public to vow to retaliate with violence, but to make people realise that taking away human life in any case with any reason is against will of our God , creator of all who granted us with this precious gift of human life.

During the Justice and Peace National Convention in Tokyo in September, I had an opportunity to share my thoughts on Peace together with Bishop Katsuya of Sapporo who is in charge of the commission for Justice and Peace.  During the talk, I mentioned that the Integral Human Development is the key for establishing real Peace, and thus Caritas activities is, in fact, action for Peace. Of course I mean Peace in a meaning specified in the VatII's Gaudium st Spes as follows.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice" (78)
(Photo below: During the national convention of Justice and Peace in Tokyo Cathedral in September. From right to left, Bp.Katsuya, Bp.Matsuura and myself)

In order to realise the "order structured into human society by its divine Founder", Pope John XXIII pointed out that number of basic human rights have to be respected and realised in the society. (Pacem in Terris) And that is the base of my point that integral human development is the must for real peace. Meaning of integral human development here is not restricted to common meaning or usage in development as such. Pope John Paul II once wrote in the Centesimus Annus" 29 as follows.

"Development must not be understood solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human. It is not only a question of raising all peoples to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united labour, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God's call."

I hope we have courage to face reality to stop these vicious circle of violence not by violent retaliation but by real process of creating Peace through integral human development. Unfortunately recent political initiatives by ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan for shifting the national security policy from passive defence to more active defense, which the prime minister named as proactive contiribution for peace, may not actually contribute to stop these vicous circle of violence.

Aug 9, 2015

Memorial day service in Hiroshima, 6 August

Almost all the Japanese Catholic Bishops and all the Japanese Anglican Bishops prayed together on the eve of the day of bombing of Hiroshima at the Catholic Cathedral of Hiroshima. It was the first time for both Catholic and Anglican bishops organised such prayer service to pray for the World Peace, Peace without nuclear weapons. Around 5 pm on 5 August, all the Bishops joined group of laity of both congregations, mainly youths, in front of the memorial tower in the Peace park. From there, all marched to the Catholic Cathedral for 40 minutes singing Japanese Christian song, "Amen, Hallelujah"

At 7 pm, ecumenical prayer service started with all the Bishops together with representatives from the World Council of Churches led by its vice moderator, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of Methodist Church. Also present with us were 3 Tibetan Buddhist monks who, during the service, prayed for Peace with words by Dalai Lama XIV, "Words of Truth". Peace message was delivered by Bishop Swenson. Bishop Oscar Cantu, the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of United States Bishops, and Bishop Mario Iceta, Bishop of Bilbao, Spain also joined the prayer together with Archbishop Chennoth, Apostolic Nuncio. The Cathedral was full of people to pray for peace and it was quite significant occasion to see people from different denominations were united in just one cause, to establish real peace in this world.

Next morning Requiem Mass was said by Catholic Bishops presided by Archbishop Maeda of Osaka, previous bishop of Hiroshima till last year. (At this moment the see of Hiroshima is vacant.) Mass began at 8:15 am on 6 August, exact time of bombing, with ringing of bells of the Cathedral to join other bells of temples in the city.

70 years has passed since humanity saw such a great scale of man-made catastrophe Only with one single bomb, a city with four hundred thousand people was destroyed and more than ninety thousand lives vanished at once. Because of radiation related diseases more than one hundred and forty thousand people died before the end of that year.

No one actually knows why the US government decided to use two atomic bombs over Japan at the end of the WWII. Yes, it is widely believed that these two bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki expedited Japanese government to decide to surrender so that many lives of soldiers were saved. Maybe so. It is also said that as Japan was already losing most of its military capability at that moment in August, 1945, and its surrender was just a matter of time, two bombs were used to establish military superiority over Soviet Union in consideration of the new world order after the WWII.

I have no idea why they were used at that moment but what I know is so many lives were taken away so violently and inhumanly and so many people are still in agony, both physically and psychologically, and so many sad stories of each individuals, not only in Japan but also in other countries, were created. Justice was done? I do not know and I am not at the position to judge the history. I say the same as St.Pope John Paul II said in Hiroshima in 1981, "War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death."

What we learned from our recent experience during March 11, 2011 disaster in Tohoku is that human wisdom has clear limitations. Through our experiences of the disaster of earthquake and Tsunami, including aftermath of the accidents of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant for which uncertainty still prevails after more than 4 years, we found out that we had been made to believe with false sense of confidence in our own human abilities and human wisdom. We thought science is almost almighty to solve any problem in this world. It was just a dream.

Also many of us found out we had lost sense of transcendent or sense of God who is far bigger than human being. This would be the result of terrible secularization in Japanese society. We thought that human being are able to control everything in this world with our technology and in such situation, God was no more needed.

"Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall (Proverb 16:18)." This disaster has been giving us warning that each one of us have to be humble enough to examine our life style and change our attitude from self pride to humility and obedience in front of power of God. And more over, we should know that we have limitations and science is not almighty.

I believe that nuclear technology, for both military and peaceful use, is still not under control of human knowledge. As for military purpose, no one knows what will happen if all the existing nuclear arms were really put in use. No one knows because it is almost impossible to imagine the end of human existence. But knowing the capability of extinction of ourselves by nuclear arms, those who have them plenty can not take initiative to abolish them because of fear against the other side. And still some others are trying to possess them in the name of preventive measures and self defense. Alas, what Pope St.John XXIIII wrote in the "Pacem in Terris" in 1963 are not taken seriously yet. Can't we stop these? Can't we stop thinking about existence of own countries alone but to make paradigm shift to think globally? We can not maintain our lives without support from others.. As in the Book of Genesis, 2:18, the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We are created to be a helper for others so without supporting each other, we lose our very reason to exist.

As for peaceful use of nuclear energy, it is complicated matter. You might think what has been happening in Japan and Fukushima in particular is quite peculiar to the earthquake prone country. I do agree that nuclear energy is clean energy and might be useful to contribute to fight against environmental degradation. But at least this technology produces nuclear waste and human knowledge at this moment has no solution to manage them other than keeping them safe, probably under ground, for quite long period of time. We are surely leaving these nuclear waste for next several generations hoping that they may find better solution. I think this has a bit of unethical implication, at least for my faith.

Are we, human race in early 21 century, really ready to responsibly utilize nuclear energy or are we trying to close our eyes not to see our limitation?


Jul 28, 2015

Time to contemplate and act for Peace.

Summer, especially in month of August, is the time to contemplate and act for peace in Japan. In 1945, on 6 August, Hiroshima was hit by the very first atomic bomb which was followed by Nagasaki on 9 August. Then on 15 August, Japan accepted unconditional surrender to allied forces which was the end of the WWII. So the Catholic Church in Japan decided in 1981 after the Hiroshima Peace appeal by Pope John Paul II, to designate this 10-day period, starting from 6 to 15 August, as a special 10 days to pray for peace.

This year, as we commemorate 70th anniversary of the end of the WWII, all the Japanese Catholic Bishops together with all Japanese Anglican Bishops gather together at Hiroshima on 5 August to pray together for peace at the Catholic Cathedral of Hiroshima in the evening.

Each diocese organizes their own Peace activities based on respective conditions. Niigata diocese usually organizes these activities on the last Sunday of July. This year it was on 26 July at the Niigata Cathedral.

As for this year's program, we invited Mr. and Ms. Katagiri, non-Christian couple from Niigata, who have been supporting education of indigenous kids in Eastern India. They have decided to establish a local  NGO in Niigata to cooperate with Indian local NGO to support education of kids and establish a boarding school for street kids. What surprised us is that they have started this activities after retirement from their jobs. It was inspiring to hear their experience and, also, future plan.

After the talk, I said Mass for Peace in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was terribly hot on the Sunday and not so many people could come to join us. However, there were more than 30 people to pray together for peace in the Cathedral.

Present Japanese government led by Mr. Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, has been trying to put through new bills to change national security policies. It has passed lower house of the Parliament and from yesterday debate has started in the upper house. Despite strong opposition from general public which one could see from number of people demonstrating around the Parliament these days calling the prime minister to withdraw the bill, Mr. Abe is determined to pass the bill as the LDP has majority of seats in both houses.

Of course, we do recognize sovereign right of the country to defend itself from any military advancement from out side the country. However, based on the historical experience of Japanese military aggression before the WWII, present Japanese Constitution prohibits the government to exercise military power outside Japan. In the article 9 of the Constitution you may read as follows.

Article 9.Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

However, government has made several reinterpretation of the article which allowed Japan to establish the Self Defense Force (SDF) as minimum force for the self defense. However, according to the government explanation, because of change of security situation surrounding Japan and also expectations of the International community for more military contribution by Japan, this interpretation had to be changed.

It was already last year, the present cabinet changed the interpretation of the article 9 and decided to allow SDF to join other countries,such as the US army, to exercise the right of collective self defense though with limitations. Of course, for many other countries, such military exercise is not something foreign. However it is Japan which followed for 70 years the pacifistic constitution which does not presuppose Japanese military forces to exercise its military power on foreign territory. 

Japanese Catholic Bishops are against this move by the government and our thoughts are reflected in the message of Japanese Catholic Bishops on 70th anniversary of the end of the WWII.

Mr.Abe stresses the point that Japan has to take the policy of "Proactive Contribution to Peace" in order to respond expectations from other countries as economic giant. So he stresses that the change of the policy and new bills reflecting this change of the security policy which are under debate in the parliament at this moment  are necessary to proactively contribute to world peace.

Well, it may be so. However, as I contemplate the meaning of peace, I do believe what Japan could contribute to the world peace is not military capability but its long established activities of contribution to the world development, especially in the so-called developing countries. And I do believe contribution to the development which will bring the full respect and realization of Human Dignity would be appreciated and respected by the international society. 

Following is my homily to contemplate the meaning of "Peace" during the Mass for peace on 26 July in the Cathedral. 


"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God"

We just heard so in the today's Gospel, Gospel of Matthew. And this same words of Jesus was used as the title of the Peace Message of Japanese Bishops issued in February this year to commemorate 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. The message of Bishops is concluded with following words.

"We are encouraged by the words of Jesus Christ, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Seventy years after the end of the war and 50 years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, let us renew our determination to seek peace and to work for peace. "

In this historical year for both general public and Church, 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and 50th anniversary of the Vatican II, we are witnessing past few months a possible major change in the Japanese national security policies. There are variety of opinions among politicians and general public to support or oppose the Government proposals in national security issue. Of course I am not going to make any comments on this issue now as national security issue is such a complex matter requiring to consider international politics and economy. However, as we are gathered together today to pray for peace in this Cathedral, I would like to take a moment to remind ourselves that which direction we, Christians, supposed to take as we proclaim and pray for Peace.  And we would like to remind ourselves that what do we really mean by "Peace." 

As Pope Paul VI wrote in the "POPULORUM PROGRESSIO" that "peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power." (76)  It is not the situation where political stability is achieved through possession of the deterrent capabilities. It is not the situation where people just smile each other to maintain their cohabitation.

Pope John XXIII began his encyclical "Pacem in Terris" with these words to clarify meaning of "Peace" in teachings of the Church.

"Peace on Earth-which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after-can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order."

"Peace" which the Church has been teaching is the situation of the world where the "divinely established order" has been realized, or in other words, the situation of the world where all the creatures are in order as the Creator so wished.

In the encyclical, Pope John XXIII pointed out and stressed the point that the realization of the world according to the will of God was depending on the fulfillment of the rights and duties of human beings based on the natural law. That means if we seek "Peace" then we have to work for realization of these rights and duties in this society. In the encyclical Holy Father listed following rights as the one to be realized.

"The Right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, rights pertaining to moral and cultural values, the right to worship God according to one's conscience, the right to choose freely one's state in life, economic rights, the right of meeting and association, the right to emigrate and immigrate, and political rights."

As we can see from the list above, we may say that these rights are mostly included in the Basic Human Rights. Then Holy Father pointed out that "once this is admitted, it follows that in human society one man's natural right gives rise to a corresponding duty in other men; the duty, that is, of recognizing and respecting that right."

If so, we could say that unless these basic human rights were respected and realized, the "divinely established order" was not realized, and therefore, "Peace" was not achieved yet. And all of us are obliged to work to recognise and respect these rights.

So if we talk about "Peace" as Christian, it is not enough just to take action against war and conflicts, but also we have to take action against the reality of the society which prevents realization of these basic human rights.

Pope Paul VI wrote in the "POPULORUM PROGRESSIO" that "development, the new name for Peace."  As for Church, activities to fight against poverty and change the living conditions of those in challenged conditions and establish human dignity for all are action for "Peace." Pope Francis in the same sentiment proclaims that church should be the "church which goes forth" to the peripheries. In the recent encyclical, "Laudato Si," Holy Father reminds us that we are not fulfilling our duties as caretakers of the Creatures and stresses the point that taking action for environmental issues are obligation for the Church. Why so. Because it is also the action for "Peace" to establish proper order in every creatures.

Then based on our understanding of "Peace," peace of Christ, where shall we go considering the future of this country in relation to the current national security debate?

Pope John XXIII wrote in the "Pacem in Terris" as follows.

"The fundamental principles upon which peace is based in today's world be replaced by an altogether different one, namely, the realization that true and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust."(113)

It is true that Church recognizes the right of defense as sovereign rights of a country to defend its people from evil act. At the same time, Church also sets clear limit to its practice so that act of self-defense should not be abused. While Church recognizes the importance of existence of military forces in modern world, it also calls for complete abolishment of arms since time of John XXIII. In the "Pacem in Terris" we could find this.

"Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man's dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control."(112)
Complete abolition of arms sounds like daydreamer's nonsense as we consider realities of modern world. However, the direction which Church wants us to take is quite clear enough. We have to discern what would be contributing for realization of "Peace" and what would be preventing that. We have to consider that integral human development which requires realization of all the basic human rights and dignified life condition is our way for Peace. Yes, we have to fight against poverty but fight against war and armed conflicts must be our priority in the efforts to establish "Peace" as these evil actions stand against human dignity and protection of our lives.

Let me conclude with words of Pope John Paul II in Hiroshima which is also quoted in the 70th Peace Message of Japanese Bishops.

“Peace must always be the aim: peace pursued and protected in all circumstances. Let us not repeat the past, a past of violence and destruction. Let us embark upon the steep and difficult path of peace, the only path that befits human dignity, the only path that leads to the true fulfillment of the human destiny, the only path to a future in which equity, justice and solidarity are realities and not just distant dreams."

Jul 14, 2015

Mass to commemorate 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa@Yamagata Prefecture

What is the meaning of martyrdom in modern world? We have a lot of martyrs in the early history of Catholic Mission in Japan. Our diocese also have quite a number of them whom we do not have any official records of names but we know that a number of Christians were executed because of their faith in 16 and 17 century.

In 2008, 188 of these martyrs from all over Japan were beatified in Nagasaki. Among them were 53 Martyrs led by Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon in Yonezawa in present day Yamagata Prefecture in Niigata Diocese.

All these 53 martyrs were member of clan which served Uesugi family in 17 century. And these martyrs are teaching us the meaning of our life, which is the answer to the question; "What is the purpose of our life in this world?" Most important fact of these martyrs is not that they died but is how they lived, lived as witnesses of Gospel value.

Following is my homily during the Mass at Hokusanbara former execution ground where majority of these 53 Blessed Martyrs were killed on 12 January, 1629. Commemoration Mass was offered on Sunday, 12 July. The celebration should been on 12 January but as the official feast day for 188 Blessed martyrs is on 1st July and the city of Yonezawa is always under heavy snow in January, we celebrate the Mass for 53 Blessed on Sunday in July.

More than 100 people joined the Mass this year with 6 priests. I presided over the Mass under very hot Sun shine.


What is the purpose of our life in this world? This is the question which 53 Christians of Yonezawa led by Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon who were martyred on 12 January, 1629 had tried to answer throughout their lives.

What is the purpose of our life in this world? And this same question is in front of us, today, those who live after 400 years of these Blessed martyrs, waiting us to find answers in our lives.

We live in a world with plenty of information. Whether we like it or not, we have to maneuver through the tidal wave of information nowadays. Of course, there are important information which we may need to sustain our lives or give us joy and hope  but, at the same time, there are useless ones for our lives also. Once a while, within these wave of information, we encounter a cry of heart which leaves deep impact on our own hearts.

I just encountered such a cry of heart recently in the sad news of a Junior High student, a 13 year-old boy from Iwate prefecture, committed suicide after years of bullying, or IJIME, by school mates. In a TV interview, his grandfather said that the boy was bullied because "he was a boy with kind heart."

What is going on in our society where a boy with kind heart are bullied and cornered in to commit suicide? People with kind hearts are the one who cares for others and try to protect lives, aren't they? However the reality of this society is different. It does not allow a person with kind heart to survive through. What do we try to preserve in this society? What are our priorities? What is the purpose of our life today?

What do we know to answer this question based on our faith? In the Book of Genesis, after creating the first man, God said that 'it is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.'(Gen.2:18) Then he created the other person. Therefore we are created and given this precious gift of life to be "helper of each other." And our lives are created as image of God with such magnificent dignity.

If that is the case, then, just worrying about ourselves and not caring for others does not fulfill our very reason of being in this world. We are to be helpers for each other. Therefore, we also have to realize that everyone in this world had been created to be helpers for ourselves and, thus, we ourselves are given a mission to be helpers for other people.

Caring for others, being kind to each other, helping each other, loving each other. All these do not depend on our personal characters but, rather, these are the very essence of being a human. We do so because we are missioned to be so by God our creator.

Pope Francis issued his Encyclical, "Laudato Si" on 18 June. This Encyclical treats the topic of environment, particularly the climate change issue, and call all people to take immediate action to fight against climate change. In the Encyclical, Holy Father wrote that when we consider our responsibility for future generations on the issue of protection of environment we reach the question of "what is the purpose of our life in this world?"

God created us and said, according to the Book of Genesis that " be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth." (Gen.1:28)

Holy Father explains in the Encyclical the meaning of this "dominion" over other creatures saying that God did not give us just freehand to do what ever we want over the creatures to satisfy our desires. Rather he made us steward of all the creatures so that we are all responsible to care for environment to create the world as God desires. And this responsibility is not only among present generation but is also for future generations.

Sometimes we hear criticism that stressing the point of protecting human life or protecting environment are for "weak people" and real "strong people" choose to fight. Is that really so? To protect human life or being a helper for each other is not an easy task to fulfil in this modern world. Sometimes it demands us to risk our lives. The reality of this society made a boy with kind heart to commit suicide. Protecting environment requires us to change our life style radically and it may arose quite a resistance among the circle who do not want to leave comfort zone of present life. These must be choices for "strong people." Fulfilling mission of God is the real choice for us which requires courageous decision.

And today, we have our ancestors in faith who sacrificed their lives to protect human life and being helper for others. Through their lives, they became witness of this mission of God to show other people what is the purpose of our life in this world.

With the intercession of these 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa, let us pray to God that we would have courage to be witnesses of this mission of God to show others the true purpose of our life in this world.


After the Mass, participants shred BENTO meal together. Filipino community from Shinjo Church shred beautiful songs. Thank you for everyone to join the Mass.

Jun 23, 2015

On the new Encyclical of Pope Francis

Holy Father, Pope Francis, has issued his new Encyclical "Laudato Si" on 18 June. The new encyclical is on the theme of Ecology and Climate change. Especially the issue of climate change has been quite controversial and even before the publication of the Encyclical, we could hear number of voices critical against Holy Father to take popular stance which is pointing out human activities as the cause of global warming and climate change mostly because the counter measures may cause stagnation in economy and changing comfortable lifestyle of many countries, especially developed countries. However, Holy Father was clear enough to write as follows.

"Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes." (23)

We are called seriously examine our life style. We are called to seriously examine our relationship with each other and nature. We are called seriously examine our relationship with our creator, God. And we are called seriously examine our responsibilities for future generation.

Following is my comment on the Encyclical published by the Asianews a few days ago.

As for Caritas Internationalis, which recently completed its 20th General Assembly in Rome with the theme "One Human Family, Caring for Creation", environmental concern and climate change are one of main issues included within its action plan for next 4 years. Also Caritas Asia, for which I have been elected as a president for second term, has been seriously working for environmental concern through our sustainable agriculture program with number of member organizations in Asia taking into account climate change issue which have been causing serious problems over many farmers' living and working conditions in Asia. We do not have to travel a long distance in Asia to see the reality of environmental degradation caused by climate change through repeated major scale natural disasters in recent days.

Therefore, I am happy to receive this encyclical of Pope Francis which gives us solid foundation for our activities in this field and convincing teachings for Catholics to commit oneself to do something for ecology.  As Pope Francis repeatedly remind us that the charitable activities are not an option in our faith but rather a part and parcel of it, in a similar way Pope reminds us in this encyclical that all the faithful have obligation to do something for mother nature. It is made clear to all of us through the encyclical that taking good care of entire creation is part and parcel of our vocation. Also Holy Father reminds us to consider the consequence of our life style to future generation. So it is not enough to provide temporal remedy to the present crisis to rescue people affected by climate change and environmental degradation but also we have to always consider long term solution for future generations which may require us to change present comfoatble life style.

I am also happy because the encyclical has been written from the view point of so-called developing countries. Modern society has been controlled by less than 20% of population in so-called developed countries and policies to guide the international society often reflect the interest of this few group of people who has financial resources. However, as Holy Father knows the reality of people's life in Latin America, he stands with poor and marginalized and writes this encyclical from there. That is why there are several points in the encyclical which are hard for people living in comfortable conditions in developed countries to accept such as changing present life style and recognize that developed countries are owing much to developing countries as the former has exploited natural resources of the latter for years. So through the encyclical it is clear now to say that it is not because of generosity of rich countries to assist development of poorer countries but it is because rich countries are obliged to do so.

Catholic Bishops of Japan has just completed its annual general assembly in Tokyo. On the last day of the assembly, 18 June, Bishops organized a study session on the issue of nuclear power generation with number of experts and theologians as lecturers. Though direct mention against nuclear power generation is not found in the encyclical, at least its careful and wise use and also consideration to the local environment with involvement of local people for planning are found in several sections.

As it is well known, after the 11 March 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japanese Catholic Bishops are advocating immediate abolition of more than 50 nuclear power generating plants in Japan which are prone to earthquakes. Of course we do receive quite a criticism over our position from general public and even from some Catholics saying that to maintain present life style and economy of Japan, the nuclear power generations can not be abolished.  That is exact the point in our message in November 2011 against nuclear power generation. We are not just calling for abolishment of the plants but also, at the end of the message, we are calling people to change our life style to reduce use of energy. Holy Father also mentions necessity to change life style of modern society which requires excessive use of energy and call for put more resources to develop renewable energy sources. I think Japanese Catholic Bishops have to be advocate of development of renewable energy sources in Japan and also call the government, business circle and general public to be responsible for future generation and also act responsible for the common good not only consider future of Japan alone but consider entire creation.

Jun 20, 2015

Confirmation Mass@ Noshiro and Tsuchizaki in Akita

There were two pastoral visits with confirmation in Akita district recently. One in Noshiro Catholic Church on 7 June and the other in Tsuchizaki Catholic Church on 14 June.

Both churches are quite far away from Niigata. It took me more than 5 hours to reach Noshiro by my car and also another 5 hours to reach Tsuchizaki. Noshiro is more than 300 km north from Niigata and could be considered as the northern end of my diocese.

A few years ago when I visited Noshiro, then parish priest was happy to welcome me saying that there were many people in the Church for Sunday Mass because of my visit. Then as people were singing entrance hymn, I found only 10 people there. Surprised I asked the parish priest why he had said "many". Then he told me that he usually had only 4 or 5 people for Sunday Mass.  That is the reality of missionaries life in northern part of my diocese.

Today, the parish priest of Noshiro is Fr. Felix Lobo, SVD from India. As we started Mass on 7 June, the feast of Corpus Christi, there were more than 18 people including small kid whose crying voice was sounded like a hope for blight future of the Church community. And we had the sacrament of confirmation during the Mass. A mother of that kid received the sacrament.  After the Mass, everyone sat down at the table to enjoy lunch box together. Though the number of the community is very few, singing during the Mass was quite strong and full of joy.

Then on 14 June, I again visited Akita to go to Tsuchizaki. Tsuchizaki is the second parish in the City of Akita. Akita parish is the biggest community with more than 700 in my diocese. Tsuchizaki might have more than 100 members and we had 6 people received the sacrament of confirmation during the Mass.

Parish priest is Fr.Kotaro Iino, SVD. We went to the SVD minor seminary in Nagoya together more than 40 years ago.

Singing by the choir with special costume of Samurai after the Mass during the lunch at parish hall was quite unique but good.

Meantime on 13 June, Bishop Goro Matsuura, an auxiliary of Osaka has been installed as a Bishop of Nagoya. Kindly pray for Bishop Matsuura and also for retired Bishop of Nagoya, Bishop Junichi Nomura. (I could not join the installation Mass at Nunoike Catholic Church, the cathedral of Nagoya on 13 June as I had to give a talk to PTA of an catholic elementary school in Kyoto)

Peace message of Japanese Catholic Bishops on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Pacific.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has issued a message for peace during its general assembly in February. The message was meant for 70th anniversary of the end of WW II in Pacific which we are to commemorate on 15 August this year. The government of Mr. Abe is also expected to issue their message of peace.

You may find the English translation of the Catholic Bishops message on this link.

The message of Japanese Bishops are, in fact, cry to the general public in Japan not to abandon our highly respected ideal for Peace which is prescribed in the post WWII constitution.

It is a reality that Japan could maintain its peaceful existence without any involvement in actual fighting for 70 years because of existence of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. And it is well known that establishing the own Japanese made constitution has been the top priority in the political agenda of the Liberal Democratic Party which has been in power for many years, except for only a few years period, after the war. They
refer present constitution as something imposed by the occupation force.

For quite sometime, considerable percentage of Japanese public began to feel that the Japan is not really matured country as the constitution prohibits exercise of military power so that in order to become "normal country" Japan has to change its constitution to allow exercise of military force with other countries in solving international conflicts, though it should be contained in the notion of "self defense" and not the aggressive military maneuver.

Now I believe that those who want to commit Japan into actual war would be very minimum among general public. I believe Mr. Abe might be thinking himself as realistic politician who just want to make Japan as "normal country" with "normal" military power and I do not think he wants to draw Japan into actual war as such.

However, unfortunately, he may lack imagination for future of the country, I think. He will not be in power for ages to come. One day, probably in 2 to 3 years time, he will step down and someone else would be in power. There is no guarantee that LDP will continue to be in power forever. Then the system has to have clear cut identity which does not allow any biased interpretation. Vague terminology which allows any interpretation should not be used.

For example, Mr. Abe's security policy is the "Proactive Contribution to Peace". He guarantees that this does not mean military advancement at all. May be true. But who knows in future? As we all know, present constitution has been interpreted in several times which favors government's policy at the time to allow the self defense force to
grow stronger,  Now they can be deployed out side Japan, but only for peace keeping operation under UN. But because of clear cut ideal of no use of military force to solve international conflicts in the article 9 of the constitution, Japan was able not to be involved in the actual fighting. So article 9 was considered something as protecting wall of peace by us and, probably, stumbling block by realists.

We just want Japanese public to remind ourselves that Japan should be an evangelist of peace in this world. We should not abandon this ideal.

At the same time, we also want to disseminate Church definition of Peace. We are not only talking about peace as "No War" as such but we are talking about "Peace in this world, which is required for the respect and development of human life, is not simply the absence of war or a balance of power between adversaries. It is “the tranquility of order”  (Saint Augustine), “the work of justice” (Isaiah 32:17) and the effect of charity. Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ" (Catechism compendium 481). Our peace message is quite in political language but what we are talking about is a bit different from what general public and politicians are talking about. We use same term "peace" but, I believe, definition of that term is quite different and that is not understood by general public yet. That is why we receive quite strong criticism from "realistic" mind political people.

Apr 27, 2015

From Lent to Easter, 2015 (part two)

On 19 March, all the 16 Japanese bishops assembled in Rome for the Ad Limina visit. Last visit was in December, 2007 and Holy Father at that time was Benedict XVI. Though it is not the first time to meet Pope Francis as we met him in Korea for Asia Youth Day in last August, it was the first time to take time to sit together to share our concern on pastoral activities in Japan.

Yes, we all had chance to share our concern with Holy Father. This was my second Ad Limina visit. Last time, we had private audience with Holy Father for 15 minutes but for this time we all sat together with Holy Father for more than an hour only with translator. Among 16 Japanese Bishops, half of us are able to handle Italian and rest not. Unfortunately I belong to the latter and Holy Father used only Italian during the meeting. Well as we had good Japanese priest who has been stationed in Rome for several years as a representative of Japanese Bishops who did marvelous job of translation for us.

At the beginning of the meeting, each one of us were given chance to greet Holy Father individually and to take photo with him. (These two photos with Holy Father were taken by an official photographer and should not be reproduced.) I could manage to hand over a DVD on the relief activities of Catholic Church in Tohoku Area after the 11 March, 2011 disaster and also a prayer card from Our Lady of Akita Diocesan Shrine.

As usual, an official speech of Holy Father was prepared but he did not read it at all. Our president, Archbishop Okada of Tokyo also prepared his speech but he was also not given a chance to read it. Instead of exchange of formal greetings, Holy Father started with several questions on missionary activities and pastoral care in Japan. Holy Father's points which he raised vary from Family issue, marriage issue, environmental protection, educational ministry, vocation promotion, pastoral care for migrants to social action of the Church. What I remember clearly was his emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity on pastoral issues of local Church. He encouraged us by telling that we should not just wait for an order from the top in Rome, but as local pastors who know the local reality well bishops should have courage to make decisions and plans for their own diocese. He also mentioned the issue of liturgical translation and showed his understanding to pay respect to the decisions of local bishops conferences.  You may find in this link my interview by Asianews of PIME missionaries on the meeting with Holy Father. It was a wonderful and exiting moment to have time of sharing with Holy Father and I really think Pope Francis is a man with real pastoral mind and concern for people in need.

Other activities of Ad Limina from 19 to 27 are too many to mention here and each Bishops had different places to visit during the stay, I mean Roma Curia. However, at least for several places all the Bishops went together, such as Mass at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul, Propaganda Fide (Japanese Catholic Church is under the Propaganda Fide), Congregation for liturgy, Congregation for Saints and Secratriat of State. About Holy Father's pastoral visit to Japan? Well, we did not hear any concrete response. We will continue to invite him. Japanese government is also seriously trying to invite Holy Father to visit Japan. On the last day, we were invited by Japanese ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Nagasaki for a dinner and discussed about our common strategy to invite Holy Father.

Then we came back to Japan a day before Passion Sunday. Now Holy Week began.

From Lent to Easter, 2015 (part one)

Breaking a spell of silence for a while, for more than a month, I am feeling obliged to continue to my chronicle of events in my diocese and also in Catholic Church in Japan. I was too busy to do both Japanese and English blogs throughout month of March as I was overwhelmed by my busy schedule.

On 14 and 15 March, I went to Shizuoka Catholic Church for two-day Lenten Recollection for parishioners of the Shizuoka area organised jointly by Caritas Japan and the parish.

In fact it was immediately after the Caritas Asia Regional Conference in Bangkok on 11 and 12 March in which I was re-elected as the President of Caritas Asia. Then I rushed back to Niigata on 13 March to preside over the evening prayer service with the Eucharistic Adoration at our Cathedral in Niigata for which Holy Father invited all the Cathedral in the world to organise such day of prayer of the Lent. Then following morning, I travelled to Shizuoka.

The parish of Shizuoka has peculiar parishioners, as far as I am concerned, my mother and a family of my younger brother. My mother is still strong at the age of 84 but could not join the recollection, maybe it would make her miserable to listen to her own son preaching.

The recollection was the continuation of Caritas campaign against hunger and, as I did so in Osaka a few weeks ago, I spoke about the reality of poverty and hunger in the world and what we could do to eradicate hunger by 2025. As Holy Father once mentioned in his message to the Caritas campaign, there are enough food to feed all people on the Earth. However, we are wasting one third of total produce for quite selfish reasons.

Then on 16 March in the evening, I was in Nagasaki, one thousand kilometer south west of Shizuoka, to join the celebration of 150th anniversary of discovery of the Hidden Christians. There might be no need to repeat the famous story of discovery of Japanese catholics at Ohura Catholic Church on 17 March, 1865 after 250 years of persecution period. At that time missionaries and priests were arrested and executed with Japanese Christians. The very last remaining priest was executed in 1644. No priest was left behind in Japan and several attempts to send Missionaries to sneak into Japan all failed.

On 17 March, several Mass were celebrated in Ohura Catholic Church, itself is the National Treasure of Japan, and 10 am Mass was designated as the official commemoration Mass celebrated by all Japanese Bishops with Papal delegate, Cardinal Quevedo.

I was interviewed by Asianews, the international Catholic news site by PIME missionaries, and you may find the article on this link of the site of PIME Asianews.

Mar 13, 2015

Some of the Lenten activities

On 22 February in Niigata Cathedral, the rite of election for the Catechumen was celebrated for the first  Sunday of Lent and I presided over the Mass.  Five Catechumen were received as the elect during the rite to be recognised officially as candidate of baptism during coming Easter celebration. Three Catechumen are from Niigata and one each from Aoyama and Niitsu in Niigata city.

In fact, it was the first time in our Cathedral to celebrate the rite with Catechumen from other parishes together. It will be beautiful and meaningful if we could manage to call all catechumen in the diocese to gather together for the rite of election on the first Sunday of Lent and pronounce by their Bishop as official candidates for the baptism, geographical distance and bad weather usually hampers people to join. For example, those from Akita have to take 3 and half hours ride of train to Niigata with only 3 services a day. So we started from those parishes near the Cathedral this year.

Yes, only five catechumen for the rite were small number but physical presence of these Catechumen from other parishes remind the Cathedral community and Catechumen themselves that we all are part of one large community, the diocese, which, in turn, a part of universal Church which is one body of Christ. I hope to continue this practice and develop it further.

On 21 February, Saturday, I was in Osaka to preach one day recollection organised by Caritas Japan. It was held as a part of the world wide anti-hunger campaign of Caritas Internationalis. Caritas Japan started to organise Lenten recollection in different part of Japan since last year.

I spoke about the reality of poverty and hunger and what we can do to eradicate hunger by 2025. As Holy Father once mentioned in his message to the campaign, there are enough food to feed all people on the erath. However, we are wasting one third of total produce for quite selfish reasons.

Thank God, more than 120 people attended the Osaka recollection held at the Sacra Familia in Umeda.

Feb 2, 2015

World day of prayer, reflection and action against the trafficking of human beings

So-called "Islamic State" has killed two Japanese hostages, Mr. Haruna Yukawa and Mr. Kenji Goto. What a sad and brutal conclusion for this hostage-taking incident! We should remember these two Japanese in our prayer and also the Jordanian pilot whose safety is unknown. May God of all consolation grant peace and solace to the family of all these victims of terrorist attack.

Though the IS people claim they are people of the Muslim faith and acting under their teachings, their act of killing innocent people for their own causes could not be accepted as action of religious people. We, people living in any faith, should pay due respect to human life which is precious gift from One God. I have great difficulty to accept any claim of justification of such brutal act in the name of God as plausible explanation of action in front of God the creator of all.

In his message on the World day of Peace 2015, Holy Father chose the theme "NO LONGER SLAVES, BUT BROTHERS AND SISTERS" and called us to realise this brutal crime of human trafficking in today's world. Human trafficking sounds like something happening far away from Japan but, in fact, the term "Human Trafficking" includes so many things which are happening around us today including the hostage-taking by terrorist groups. In the message, Holy Father wrote as follows:
I think of the many men and women labourers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights.I think also of the living conditions of many migrants who, in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse. In a particular way, I think of those among them who, upon arriving at their destination after a gruelling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane conditions. I think of those among them, who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely. My thoughts also turn to those who, in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living and working conditions, especially in those cases where the laws of a nation create or permit a structural dependency of migrant workers on their employers, as, for example, when the legality of their residency is made dependent on their labour contract. Yes, I am thinking of “slave labour”.
I think also of persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves. I think of women forced into marriage, those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.
Nor can I fail to think of all those persons, minors and adults alike, who are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics, or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption.
Finally, I think of all those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups, subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves. Many of these disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed.
As one of the activities of the Year of Consecrated Life, it has been announced that coming Sunday, 8th February has been designated as the "World day of prayer, reflection and action against the trafficking of human beings" based on this message of Holy Father. The day, 8th February is the memorial of St.Josephine Bakhita who was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Schio (Vicenza)  in 1947. She was a slave and trafficked but later she became a member of the Canossian Sisters.
There are so many in today's world who are deprived of freedom and taken hostage of modern slavery. There are so many who are kidnapped by terrorist groups or, even sometimes by the state. Let us remember all these people, not only our own country men but also all the people who are suffering of human trafficking, especially vulnerable women and children, in our prayer on Sunday 8th February. 

Jan 19, 2015

Remembering my "comrade"

Former volunteer Catechist of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Osonson, Ghana, Mr. Joseph Kwesi Dumas has passed away a few days ago at the age of 74. He was one of more than 40 volunteer Catechists helping Parish pastoral activities while I was a priest-in-charge and later a parish priest of Osonson from 1987 to 1994. During my stint of pastoral care of Osonson for 7 years, I was alone without any other priests during the initial 5years to take care of more than 20 out-stations and it was not easy for me, just ordained in Japan in 1986 and sent to Ghana immediately after the ordination with only 8 months of local language study, even to find out what I had to do as a priest. (Photo above. Mr. Jopseph Kwesi Dumas in 2006 when I visited Osonson)

Osonson itself had around 200 Sunday Mass participants but I also had 2 out-stations with more than 300 Mass participants each. I could celebrate Sunday Mass only in these 3 communities. If you know the Mass in this part of Ghana, it takes more than 2 to 3 hours to reach the recessional procession. Then what about other 18 or more communities?

This was the reason why we had so many volunteer Catechists in Osonson. They were the one to conduct Sunday services in other out-stations. Priest could visit only during weekdays for Mass. At that time, there were no English translation for the Old Testament so that they had to translate the readings from English to the local language, Krobo. Many of these volunteer Catechists were school teachers as they knew English.

But that was not their only duty. While villages are far apart and road conditions were not so suitable for car access, it was not possible for me alone to visit all sick people or attend the emergency call. So it were also important duties of Catechists to visit sick and to pray for dead.

Above all, the most important duties of these Catechists were to teach catechism. Every year, I could baptise more than 100 to 200 people in these out-stations and it was impossible for me to teach catechism to all these 100 to 200 people scattered around in villages. So teaching catechism and prepare catechumens for baptism were the most important duty of Catechists.

In fact, I could do nothing without these Catechists. I owe them a lot.

Diocese, at that time, provided salary for one catechist in each parish so that I had one full time catechist who went around with me. Yes I owe him a lot and I could not do much without the full-time catechist. But I owe more than that to all these volunteer Catechists who sacrificed their precious time for pastoral care of people without any payment.Without these dedicated volunteer catechists, missionaries from other countries could not do much in these challenging situations.

Among all these volunteer Catechists, as late Mr. Dumas was living in the Osnosn itself, I have a lot of memories of working together with him. Since Mr.Dumas had so beautiful handwriting which I do not have, I always asked him to make an entry of baptismal register and to issue baptismal cards. But his really special talent was to visit sick people. I do not know how much time he spent during a day to visit sick people. Sometimes he made me to carry sick to a hospital which was more than 2 hours away by a car and he waited patiently with the sick for hours while I went around a town for shopping.  Wonderful man with generous heart. I miss you, Mr. Dumas. My God grant you eternal peace. (Photo above. Mr Dumas visiting a sick in Osonson in 1993)

One of his sons is a Divine Word Missionary priest, Fr. Martin Dumas, now working in Japan province of the SVD.  

Jan 12, 2015

Universality of the Church and the reality of the society

Soon after the beginning of the New Year, still many are in festive mood, no one expected such brutal incident to happen, such bloody and merciless terrorist attacks in France. Our condolence and prayer for those victims of horrible attacks and also our prayers for quick recovery of those who are injured. I hope the local people and local communities would be able to overcome sorrow and shocks as soon as possible.

Needless to say that such terrorism against the freedom of the press has to be condemned and unjustifiable. Moreover, it is impossible to justify in front of the Creator of human life such violent deprivation of one's life without any effort to dialogue. It is very sad to experience such horrible incidents which drag people into darkness of fear at the very beginning of the new year.

At the same time, as we are saddened by this incidents in France, we cannot and should not forget tens and thousands of people who lost their lives in such terrible situation of terrorism in all over the world. As this incident happened in Paris, media coverage on every act of terrorist was so much and plentiful. But there are much more incidents happening day by day in Holy Land, Middle East, Ukraine, Africa, Asia and elsewhere on this planet which deprive innocent people from maintain their precious lives. And, worse, those who take human lives violently always try to justify their causes.

As we face such reality, I am resolved that we have to continue to express our desire to establish Peace on this planet even though, for many, talking about establishing perfect peace is just regarded as a dream. Human life has to be protected from its very beginning to the end with total respect and due dignity.

On 8 January in Niigata Nippo News Paper, the above article in a photo was published. It is about one of our members in the diocese, Ms. Julia Abe who hailed from Philippines and now married with Japanese in Kamo city in Niigata Prefecture. She is quite famous among locals as cheerful English teacher and a charitable person. The article also present her cheerfulness and several activities to raise fund for victims of natural disasters.

There is no need to repeat again but we have a lot of Catholics among us in the diocese who hailed from other countries such as Philippines. As I have been emphasising that I do believe that these people are sent by God to Japan as missionaries of Gospel message. God provides missionaries in a way we are not able to imagine of.  So many Filipino Catholics including Ms Julia are in our local communities where we do not have parishes to reside, to have family and through their daily cheerful lives to be living witnesses of the Gospel.

Moreover, their very existence among our parish communities make us feel in reality the Universality of the Church. Church exist within the limit of national boundaries but the Church is not limited by such artificial walls which separate people. It is written in the "Lumen Gentium" of the Vat. II as follows.
"It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members"
The Church exist within the limitation defined by national boundaries or local cultures as "Church of so and so country or area" but that limitation does not divide the Church as such. Rather it exists as "one people of God" which goes beyond the artificial boundaries. That is our universality.

So the Universality of the Church does not simply mean that we have many nationalities in our community. That is just "internationality". But we should have feeling that despite difference in nationality of culture or language, we are united in one body and we are realising this one body in this real world. That is our feeling of universality of the Church. This is the reason why I put emphasis that those Catholics from other countries should not be treated as mere "guests" but they are one with us working together to create one body which go far beyond the national boundaries.

What about the reality of this society nowadays. I feel that we are talking about difference of nationality of ethnicity too much. I feel that we are worried about preserving our own cultural identity too much. I feel that in order to glorify our past history we are creating hatred against our neighbors too much. And these are not only our problem in Japan but also in many other parts of the world including East Asian countries. Even today we see violent action to exclude "others" in many parts of the world including our country. Where is our sympathy to others? Where is our tolerance to others especially to weak and oppressed? Where is our sense of justice and equality to minorities of the society? We have to speak up against this reality of the world which separate and divide people that what we know from the sense of universality of the Church is really needed to change the world.

Happy New Year!

Belated greetings of the new year but better late than never.
So I wish you all Happy New Year! May God bless you all through out this new year, 2015.

Thank you for your prayer and support during the year 2014. Niigata diocese received so much assistance from other diocese in Japan, particularly from Tokyo and Yokohama, in construction of our new Chancery office and Bishop's residence which completed on 10 May, 2014. There are so many reasons to thank everyone of your support for our pastoral activities in Niigata. I ask you to continue to pray for us so that despite challenging social environment, such as bad economy, low employment rate, aging society with very low birth rate, growing nationalism and gradual declination of tolerance to others among general public, we would be able to continue to be steadfast witnesses of the Gospel. (Photo above: Christmas midnight Mass in Niigata Cathedral)

Also I would like to ask you to continue to remember people in Tohoku area who have been struggling hard to re-establish their normal life as before the March11 2011 disaster. Still many are not able to return to their original communities and Fukushima Nuclear power plant area is still in confusion.(Photo above: Closed entrance to the town of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture. Welcome Arch or Gate over the road reads "Nuclear Power is the energy of bright future", but because of the nuclear power plant accident, residents are not allowed to enter this area as of today.)

May God bless you all in this Year 2015.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata
President, Caritas Asia

P.S. I have issued the New Year Pastoral Letter, but it is in Japanese. You may find it in this link.