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.