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.