Dec 30, 2016

Christmas Message

I just made a quick translation of my homily from Japanese to English of the midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at Niigata Cathedral, 24 December, 2016.

On the night when Jesus was born, according to the Gospel of Luke, the Angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds living in the field keeping watch over their flock. The Angel declared to shepherds that "I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you." Then the Angel continued; "you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger"

Prophet Isaiah also declared in a similar way telling us that "for a child is born to us, a son is given us" and that is "abundant joy and great rejoicing" for people.

Gospel of Luke and Prophet Isaiah both spoke about great joy given to us and that joy is symbolized by a new born baby. That great joy is, according to Isaiah, joy of finding light in darkness. Therefore Isaiah wrote that "upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone." And a new born baby is symbol of that light and joy.

Celebration of the birth of our Lord is also the celebration of new life given to us which brings us joy and hope. We celebrate because God was incarnated in the same life as ours as human to show us that the human life has divine dignity. Moreover, through the mystery of incarnation, Jesus lived the life of serving and saving others which makes us to ponder deeply about the meaning of life given to us by God as gift. So today we celebrate and at the same time think about meaning of human life.

Gospel of Luke told us that Angel of the Lord after appearing to shepherds proclaimed that "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

This proclamation of Angel teaches us how we should live the God given life.  We should imitate on earth the perfectness of God in heaven and try to live lives according to will of God. St. Paul in today's second reading saying by the same token that the grace of God is "training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age."

Then proclamation of Angel told us that living life according to will of God means living in Peace.

Again and again in the Church we have been saying that Peace of God is not only absence of war or conflict but much more than that. Peace of God means that the order of God is realized. When the original order in which God has created this world is re-established, then real Peace will be established.

Therefore through celebrating birth of Jesus we also contemplate the meaning of our life and also contemplate the possibilities to establish real Peace in this world which would be re-establishment of the order of God. 

Pope Francis In "Laudato Si" points out that "the harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. (66)"

When we look back the year 2016, we should realize that we have been disrupting the harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation by our actions. And we have been creating completely different type of order based upon our arrogance and lack of humility. The order against will of God has brought destruction of Peace and threat to the human life, rejection of helping others, indifferent attitude to cry for help which tempt us to exclude vulnerable people.

Without any efforts, we would be able to find a lot of examples of incidents of rejection, exclusion and indifference in today's world. Throughout the year 2016, so many such incidents happened all over the world.

Peace in Syria.  Holy Father has been making fervent appeal for peace in Syria to political leaders all over the world. He also has been appealing to all of us to help refugees number of times. On April 16, he even brought 3 Syrian refugee families from Greece to Rome to show us what we should be doing.

Despite Holy Father's repeated appeal for peace and action to help vulnerable, what is the reality? Political leaders talk about cease fire and peace, negotiation made and agreement has been reached number of times. But in meantime, suffering of people continues. Especially children are suffering the most. Hospitals are bombed and so many lives of innocent people are still in danger.

Japan is not an exception. What happened in Sagamihara in July made us to think about meaning of human life. 19 handicapped people were killed and 26 injured in a social welfare facility for mentally handicapped in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture. The crime was committed by a lone young man who used to work in the same facility. He justified his action saying that what he did was for the good of people as handicapped people had no value to live. Supporting handicapped people are waste of money, according to his claim. What surprised me is that, particularly in the Internet world, there are quite a number of people who showed sympathy to this claim. What are we talking about? Who gave us authority to make judgment over value of human life? We do not have such authority. Life belong to God. 

God gave us this precious life. Life is the precious gift for all of us. Then what would be the God's design for human life? How does God want us to live?  We have to take time to ponder on the meaning of life so that we might be able to "reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.

In the world where we live today is filled by so much of malicious intentions and indifference attitude which do not pay due respect to human life.

Dec 26, 2016

I wish you a blessed Christmas.

My dear friends,

I wish you all Merry Christmas and blessing for the coming year, 2017.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata, Japan

Aug 13, 2016

Ten days for Peace: Is peace really possible?

Catholic Church in Japan has been observing ten days for Peace from 6 August to 15 August since Pope John Paul II had visited Japan in 1981. Why it is from 6 to 15 August? It is because Hiroshima was bombed by the atomic bomb on 6 August, 1945 and the government accepted the unconditional surrender to allied forces on 15 August of the same year. And Nagasaki was also bombed by the atomic bomb on 9 August of the same year. Experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is enough for Japanese people to remember misery and atrocity of war and also the experience to accept unconditional surrender which was unavoidable at that time is also enough to remember hardships and great loss people had experienced during and after the WWII.

It is rightly correct to insist and assert that war has to be avoided or nuclear weapons should be abolished based on our negative experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And needles to say but the Japanese constitution in article 9 stipulates the government to outlaw war as a means to settle international disputes. But because we often contemplate about Peace based on our kind of victim mentality, our claim for peace has been just saying "No" to actual fighting and do not go deep into the real meaning of Peace. What is Peace? That has to be asked to all of us in Japan today.

In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 489, it is said that "In biblical revelation, peace is much more than the simple absence of war; it represents the fullness of life"

Going back to the Pacem in Terris of the Pope John XXIII, he began the encyclical by saying, "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."

So what we have to strive for is to find out the divinely established order. Maybe we may say that we have to try to find out the world which God desires for.

That reminds us that if we seek for Peace to be established today, then just calling for "No War" is not enough but, rather, we have to tackle with wide range of issues which prevents the divine order to be realized. Any kind of human misery existing in today's world is preventing realization of the divine order. Any kind of injustice existing in today's world is preventing it. Any restriction of freedom is preventing it. Any kind of alienation or exclusion is preventing it. Any environmental degradation is preventing it. So many issues to be tackled to establish real peace.

Because of recent growing tension between our neighboring countries, such as over territorial disputes or by actual missile tests, we do hear some voices calling more tough measures should be taken by the Japanese government. And that voices are getting stronger. It seems that some voices are calling immediate solution over these situations.

Then we should remember what was written in the Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium" in 222 & 223. "Time is greater than space."

"This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time."

What was said by the Mayor of Nagasaki, Mr. Taue on 9 August during the Peace memorial Service is really telling us something to be considered. Though he was talking about abolish of nuclear weapons, what he said was the general principle of establishing Peace.

"The history of nuclear weapons is also the history of distrust.
In the midst of this distrust between nations, countries with nuclear weapons have developed evermore destructive weapons with increasingly distant target ranges. There are still over 15,000 nuclear warheads in existence, and there is the ever-present danger that they may be used in war, by accident, or as an act of terrorism.

One way of stemming this flow and turning the cycle of distrust into a cycle of trust is to continue with persistent efforts to create trust. In line with the peaceful ethos of the Constitution of Japan, we have endeavored to spread trust throughout the world by contributing to global society through efforts such as humanitarian aid. In order that we never again descend into war, Japan must continue to follow this path as a peaceful

Though I do not deny the right of self defense by Japan, what we have to pursue today is not to enhance our military capability to establish adequate deterrent forces against any possible military advance but to foster the cycle of trust among nations. For that, much more diplomatic efforts are needed. I really expect our diplomats to work harder and tactically to try to involve more countries into the cycle of trust. Also for us, Catholics in Japan, to try to work much more to disseminate the idea of true peace, the Peace of God so that this country to be a champion of the integral human development in today's world to realize the divine order.


Jul 28, 2016

On the Sagamihara murder case

As I had returned back from PNG in the evening on 26 July, I got to know the mass murder of 19 disabled people in Sagamihara that morning. 26 more people were injured. I was deeply shocked to hear the case and, more over, I was absolutely stunned to know that the suspect was justifying his action against disabled people as something to "save" them as "mercy killing".

First and most, I offer my sincere condolence to the family of victims and pray for eternal rest of those 19 people whose lives were violently taken away. And I pray that merciful God may extend his hand to those injured and to those terrified and give them consolation and quick recovery.

Probably there is no need to repeat the same points again and again but let me say it again. Based on our Christian faith, it is not for us to measure the weight of human life. It is only God, God who created our human life and gave it to us, who has right to do so.

Who is allowed to continue to live. Who is worth to survive. Such judgments are not for us to make. If we do so, are we not too arrogant before the God who created the human life? Moreover, God created us as his own image, therefore, all human lives has its own importance and value as the image of God. That is what we call the Human Dignity.

Already many people have made their comments against the discriminatory judgement and violent action by the suspect over people in weak position in the society. When we talk about the people in weak position in the society, it should be inclusive concept of all kinds of weakness and not only of physically disabled people. It includes those people discriminated as different or foreign, facing economical difficulties, facing health problems, facing obstacle of social systems, facing cultural barriers and more. In a sense, all of us are facing or holding some kind of difficulties in the society and  that means we all have potential to be a person in weak position in the society in one way or other.

That is why we have to help each other. That is why we have to support each other. If we don't, then we, human being, may not be able to survive.

I hope through facing the reality of this sad and terrible incidents in Sagamihara, we all in Japan would have yet another chance to think about the meaning of our lives and value of the human life. Then, I hope and pray, we would keep in our heart the value of mutual support to create one human family.

Jul 4, 2016

Bangladesh. I want to cry for the people in the country.

Though there have been so many incidents of terrorist attacks such as suicide bombing or attacks over innocent people happening all over the world, and though my heart is full of pain when ever I hear such incidents, this cruel and merciless attack over innocent people at a restaurant in Dhaka made me feel terribly sad.

First and most, among 20 hostages who was killed by terrorists were 7 Japanese. Because of involvement of these 7 Japanese among the victims, we, people in Japan, are suddenly forced to realize that Japan is not isolated from rest of the world. In this globalized world, no country can be isolated from world affairs but has to be involved and to make active and positive contribution. I am not talking about military involvement of Japan as such as some people are suggesting. But Japan has to realize that we have to be involved in peace making process of this complex world as responsible member of this one common house.

According to the Asahi Shinbun, a Japanese news paper, one of the victims, Mr.Hiroshi Tanaka, 80, was a Catholic and a team member of teachers of catechism in one of parishes in Tokyo. What a pity to loose such dedicated Catholic.

What makes me feel so sad is that these 7 Japanese victims were all working for the development projects in Bangladesh. They are people full of compassion for people in need. They are people full of courage to go out ones comfort zone to face challenges in completely different culture. They are people who find happiness in lending their hands to others in difficulties. They are people who could think globally and act beyond national boundaries.  They are people who could be mindful to take care of our common house, the earth. What a pity to lose these wonderful fighters for true development and alleviation of poverty from this world.

Contrary to these people, those who conducted this terrible attack over innocent victims could not go beyond their limited world. They were living in their own world which was completely isolated from rest of others.

Of course, it is not acceptable to use name of God or any religion as excuse to take other people's life. True religious all agree that God is for life and not for death, is for peace and not for violence, is for protection of dignity of human person and not for destroying them.

In this globalized world, we are not able to sustain our lives without helping each other. We are not able to maintain our common house without putting our wisdom together. We cannot concentrate only on our domestic agenda and ignore other people's need. We cannot retreat into our own world surrounded by our selfish barrier to only to think about ourselves. We got to work together for betterment of all.

The victims were people who could break this barrier and go far beyond it. But the terrorists were not. Between the victims and terrorists, there are huge distance of difference in how they lived, between the life to take care of others in need and the life to ignore others to realize one's own agenda.

I want really cry for victims of terrorists attacks, not only for these 7 Japanese victims but also for all other innocent souls of such incidents all over the world. But I want cry much more for people in Bangladesh who lost at least seven good brothers and sisters from Japan who compassionately thought of betterment of lives of people of the country.  

May 9, 2016

Caritas Solidarity Conference in Nepal

It was on 25 April, 2015 when Nepal was hit by magnitude 7.8 earthquake which took over 8,000 people's life and injured over 20,000.

Immediately after the disaster, Caritas Nepal together with Caritas Internationalis started relief activities under complex political situation and geographical hardships. One of the member organisation of Caritas confederation, Caritas Australia has been asked to accompany Caritas Nepal while others such as CAFOD from England/Wales, CRS from the US and many other Caritas member organisation have been involved in the operation. Caritas Japan is also contributing financially to the operation.

To commemorate the first anniversary of the disaster and evaluate Caritas response, a conference was organised by Caritas Nepal from 25 to 27 in Dulikhel, outskirt of the capital, Kathmandu.

More than 60 participants were welcomed by Bishop Paul Simick, Apostolic Vicar of Nepal, and Fr. Silas Bogati, the executive director of Caritas Nepal and vicar General of the Vicariate who has been working with Caritas for a long time.

Other participants included Cardinal Tagle, President of Caritas Internationalis, Archbishop Pennacchio, Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal, Bishop Stasiuk, Deputy Chair of Caritas Australia, Bishop Rawsthorne, former CAFOD chair and many more from Caritas member organisations.

Though Catholic Church is absolute minority in Nepal; with only seven thousand Catholics (by the way it is just the same as my diocese, Niigata), it seems that its charitable activities through Caritas Nepal has been highly appreciated by the national government. Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mr. Aananda Pokharel was present at the beginning of this 3 day solidarity event to congratulate and show appreciation to the Caritas activities and to Catholic Church. It seems that Caritas Nepal and other Caritas member organisations working together with Caritas Nepal after the disaster are well appreciated by local authorities and created good relationship with them.

Based on our experience of disaster in Japan and also on my own encounter with so many victims of natural disaster in different
countries, it is obvious that it will take quite a long time for victims to recover normal life as before the disaster both in rich and developed countries and in poor and underdeveloped countries.

Materially speaking, people in rich countries such as Japan have advantage in receiving relief goods without much delay and in abundance. However it does not mean victims in rich countries have advantage in psychological compensation because, in many cases in rich countries, human relationship in local community has been lost in individualism or local community itself is not so much in function any more far before the disaster.

As one of the program for the 3-day event, we visited one of the hard hit area in Nepal. The village I visited was called Balthali with nearly 190 houses severely hit by earthquake. After one year of the disaster, people are still living in shelters unable to reconstruct their houses. Compare with those shelters in Japan, victims in Nepal are to live in really bad situation. However, people had not lost their hope for future. Though they have been facing terrible difficulties and delay of official assistance, they are confident to rebuild their life in due time. It is only from my guess
but these confidence for future in Nepal is coming from sense of security and mutual support by relationship within the local community. In any case I am really amazed by the resilience of the earthquake affected people in Nepal.

Registration of victims by government to receive necessary financial assistance to rebuild their houses are still going on after one year. Caritas with other NGOs are working with local authority to set up enrollment center to assist local people to prepare documents for registration and also to provide information on earthquake resistant building plan.

There are NGOs or other official agencies with full of skills to provide
immediate relief goods after the disaster. Though Caritas might be one of them, Caritas is characterized by its long term commitment to the people long after the disaster. It is because the Church is always there with people and our charitable activities are based on the very characteristics of being Church.

Apr 16, 2016

Yet another massive earthquake in Kumamoto

Kumamoto in Kyushu had been hit by massive earthquake on 14 April which took lives of 9 people. Then at 1:25 am today, Saturday, yet another massive earthquake of magnitude 7.3 hit the area. This time, damage caused by the quake affected much wider area than the 14th one.

According to the reports, as at this moment, 15 more people lost their lives and around 1,000 injuries.

As at yesterday, we thought the damage was contained in small area of Mashiki town but this morning quake caused damage in much wider area, including neighboring Ohita prefecture.

At 2 pm, Japan time, today, Saturday, Bishop Miyahara of Fukuoka called a meeting of relevant members of the diocese to discuss about the plan to be help of those affected in the area. Caritas Japan is waiting to hear from this meeting of Fukuoka diocese to decide what step should be taken next.

Apr 15, 2016

Massive earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan

Massive earthquake of magnitude 6.5 hit Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu island, last night at 9:26 pm Japan time. According to the meteorological bureau, scale of an earthquake was measured as 7. Measured 7 earthquake does not happen so often even in Japan. It was only in 1995 in Kobe, 2004 in Niigata and 2011 in Tohoku. So it was quite strong earthquake. However, as its epicenter was inland, there were no fear of Tsunami.

Since then till this morning, there are more than 100 aftershocks including very small ones.  At this moment, according to news reports, 9 people lost their lives. May they rest in Peace. 

There are also number of reports of injuries and quite many houses are destroyed. Caritas Japan is continuing to gather information from the area at this moment. Kumamoto prefecture is under Fukuoka diocese and Caritas Japan will continue to communicate with the diocesan director of Caritas. As for Catholic Church facilities in Kumamoto, there are no serious reports of damages at this moment, though we do not have any information of members of Catholic community in Kumamoto. As far as what we see from TV reports this morning, most of damages are concentrated in one town, Mashiki.

Usually, for such emergencies, local government together with national government is ready to offer assistance to the victims without any delay. Self Defense Force, police and fire department in general are well trained and well eqquiped to take immediate action once such disaster happened in Japan. Local NGOs have their own role to play at this moment, however, other NGOs from out side the area would have much more role to play for rehabilitation phase of the disaster.

Mar 28, 2016

Happy Easter @ Niigata Cathedral

Happy Easter !

May the light of peace and forgiveness shine in the darkness and may the Risen Lord's hope and power bring new life to everyone.

During the Easter Vigil on 26 March in the Cathedral Church of Niigata Diocese, 4 people received baptism and 2 were received to the Catholic Church from other denomination. All these 6 also received sacrament of Confirmation.

At 7 pm, the Vigil Mass started at the main entrance area of the Cathedral with blessing of new fire and candle. The paschal candle was brought into the church by Fr.Ngaji, SVD, assistant pastor, who also sung Exsultet. After the several readings and Gloria with sounds of bell ringing, gospel was read by the pastor, Fr. Raul.

Then after the homily, 4 catechumens were called to the front for baptism. Three ladies, mother and two daughters, and a gentleman who is a school teacher, were baptized by myself. Then 2 candidates, a husband and wife, who had been baptized at a protestant community long time ago, recited the creed and received into the Catholic community. And I confirmed all these 6. Thank God we have now 6 new members in the Cathedral community which has been facing decreasing number of members because quite majority of them are over 80 years old today.

Next day, on Easter Sunday, the Cathedral was almost full. Well, that means there were around 160 participants in the Mass. Number of them attend Mass only once or twice, Easter and Christmas, a year. So what I can say is the 160 would be the reality of the size of this community despite, according to the official register, 700 supposed to be the number of the members of the Cathedral community.

While we were observing Holy Week this year, number of sad incidents happened around the world.  There were several bombing attacks in Brussels, execution of 2 inmates in Japan on Good Friday and bombing an a park in Pakistan on Easter Sunday which killed at least 67 people.

In the first reading of Easter Sunday, Acts of Apostles, Peter was giving his strong witness on Jesus Christ. We can imagine how they, disciples, felt after the killing of their Master. Fear, anger, hatred or regret. But Peter was talking about none of them. Rather he emphasized that those who believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness. Peter was changed to live new life as he met and believed in the Risen Lord. He was now more living in the old life of fear, hatred, anger or regret, but now he is living with forgiveness of the Lord, the face of Fathers's mercy.

What violence produces is fear and sadness which in turn produces anger and intent on revenge. Revenge just creates vicious circle of violence which, as history proves, has been destroying so many people's life and put so many innocent people in danger of life. That is not the world which God wants us to realize. And it is a terrible contradiction to capitalize name of God as excuse of using violence for any kind of solution of the problem as God is the one who created our life with so much love, love which forced God himself to die for us. Then how can God allow us to destroy life?

At the time of Easter, what we have to proclaim is forgiveness brought into us by Risen Lord who invites us to live in new life filled with mercy of God.   


Mar 25, 2016

On Good Friday in Japan

On this very sacred period for us Christians, Paschal Triduum, and particular on Good Friday, it is quite unfortunate to note that Japanese government has executed two convicted people this morning. It is also unfortunate to note that the Japanese government has record of executing 4 convicted people on the Christmas day in 2006.

Though I know, according to the government explanation on the issue,  the quite majority of general public in Japan supports government position on maintaining death penalty and, I know, quite number of Catholics in Japan also support this position. Therefore it is not easy task to realize Japan without death penalty and it seems almost impossible to abolish this system.

However, we, as member of one body of Jesus Christ, should give heed to our Shepard, Holy Father, on this particular issue. On 21 February this year after the Angelus, Holy Father appealed again to abolish death penalty.    Holy Father said that “the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value, and covers both the innocent and the guilty.” Then he continued saying “I appeal to the conscience of the rulers, so that we achieve an international consensus for the abolition of the death penalty.”

This call for abolishing death penalty has been repeated by previous Pontiffs despite the official teachings of Catholic Church do not forbid it.

But for Pope Francis, it is much more than repeating the same appeal as his predecessor. This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  So he appealed to the world leaders saying “I propose to those among them who are Catholics to make a courageous and exemplary gesture that no sentence is executed in this Holy Year of Mercy.”

It is true that Japan is not Christian country and our government is very much secular government with strict separation of religion and state. And it is true that our national leader is not a Catholic, though the number 2 in the cabinet is. And it is true that the execution is decided by minister of Justice who is also not a Catholic. So they have no obligation to consider Holy Father's appeal. However, only a few days ago on 19 March, foreign minister of Japan, Mr. Kishida, paid a visit to the Holy See and met with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, inviting Holy Father to visit Japan to pray for Peace in Asia and the World. When thinking about the seriousness and insistence of Japanese government to invite Holy Father to Japan, for which Japanese Bishops are also working on, I am a bit surprised to note the timing of today's execution. In any case, despite popular support for the death penalty in Japan, I have to repeat the appeal of Holy Father to abolish the death penalty in respect of human life.  

Feb 23, 2016

Ash Wednesday @ Niigata Cathedral

Ash Wednesday for this year's Lent was on 10 February and I presided over the 10 am Mass in the Niigata Cathedral with more than 40 faithful who managed to join the Mass despite of very cold and miserable winter weather.

Homily of the Mass on 10 February.

A few weeks ago, Holy See made announcement of a good news for us, the Japanese Church. The good news was the approval of martyrdom of Justo Ukon Takayama by Holy Father. I hope his beatification will take place soon, maybe early next year in Japan.

Justo Ukon Takayama was a ”Daimyo" or a feudal lord of 400 years ago. He was exiled to Philippines with his entire family because of his Christian faith in the end of 1614. He died in Manila on 3 February, 1615 because of tropical disease.

Last year, there was a symposium on Ukon and one of the speakers said something like following.

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Shogun at that time, decided to expel Ukon from his position because of his refusal to abandon the faith, Ukon's friends tried to persuade him to avoid conflict with his master, Hideyoshi. But Ukon did not give any heed to these advice saying he wanted to hold his honor as "Knight of Jesus Christ". Then he told his friends that there was not a thing to be altered in the matter of God. When his entire possessions, title and honor were confiscated, Ukon happily accepted all these as sacrifice for God in thanksgiving. He even thank God that now he became a man receiving mercy from others. Moreover, even in that situation, he did not forget to share what he received with other people in much more need. The life of Ukon is surrendering everything to God and that is the life of martyrs.

As you have noticed, Ukon was not executed such as our 53 blessed martyrs of Yonezawa who were executed by the local government at that time. Ukon died of tropical disease in exile. Holy Father, however, recognized Ukon as a martyr. This decision teaches us that martyrdom does not exclusively mean the fact that someone was killed because of the faith.

Ukon for his part sacrificed everything of his possessions, fame, honor and title for the sake of maintaining his faith. He even accepted these fact in joy of faith and became a witness of God to others through his words and deeds. That is the life of martyrs. That is why he is a martyr and his life teaches us the modern meaning of martyrdom.

"There is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." What would be the meaning of such resolution of Ukon for us today. We often make compromised choices mostly affected by relationships with others in order to avoid complications in our lives so that we may be able to survive through modern world saying these choices are down-to-earth or based on the realistic judgement.  In these circumstances, we often make compromise with our faith as we give priority to "realistic choices". Ukon's resolution in faith is telling us who live in this complicated realities that there are other choices to make. Ukon is the modern witness of choosing dignified way of life.

Be that as it may, it is not easy for most of us to choose such strict and unforgiving way of life as Ukon. Human weaknesses invite us to choose the way of compromise.

That is why Prophet Joel reaches us with his tender words.

"Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity"

Our heart will be in peace as we remember that we are wrapped around by mercy of the Lord.

As we are celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy, Holy Father, in his Lenten message, invites us as follows.

"In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17).

Then Holy Father teaches is how we should spend the season of Lent.

"For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated". 

On Ash Wednesday during the Mass, we receive ashes on our forehead. While receiving ashes, let us try to feel our smallness as compare to greatness of God. Let us try to feel the necessity to humble ourselves in front of our Creator. We are weak and always in need of help of God which is Divine Mercy and God is always with us and always ready to enfold us with his mercy. But we should not be a person of simply receiving gifts but be a person of sharing. That is why we need to share mercy of God to others through our "corporal and spiritual works of mercy" and that is also evangelization.  So what can we do during this lent season in our society?

At the same time, as I have mentioned, it is not a easy task to be like Ukon Takayama who lived the life of martyrs in great joy and maintained his resolution which was "there is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." Our faith, in many cases, are not solid like Ukon's faith but rather indecisive、easy to give way to temptations. We are weak being. However, though we are weak, God never forsake us. We are in his hand of mercy.

Feb 20, 2016

Caritas China Social Pastoral Conference @ Manila

Caritas Internatinonalis together with Caritas Asia has organized the 3rd China Social Pastoral Conference in Manila from 1 to 3 February which was attended by more than 30 participants including number of them representing 5 Catholic charitable organisations from mainland China.

Very first such conference was organised in Taiwan 3 years ago and the second one was in Macau. As for this time, President of the Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Tagle had a chance to give a talk to the participants as we gathered at his city, Manila.

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of Caritas national organisations all over the world. Though there are numerous number of diocesan caritas organisations in many countries, it is only the national organisation which received recognition from a bishops' conference are allowed to join the confederation. In mainland China, Caritas Hong Kong and Caritas Macau have been members of the confederation before they were returned to China. Then the current "bishops' conference" in mainland China has not been recognized by the Holy See with reasons you know well and I do not have to mention it. That means there is no national Caritas to join the confederation at this moment. But that does not mean that charitable activities of Catholic Church in China should be isolated from rest of Catholic world since we are acting based on the same faith.

There are number of diocesan charitable organisations existing in China which operates according to Catholic social teachings sharing the same faith. That is why we have been organising such forum for sometime to invite them to share the current trend in Caritas activities and also share information for further cooperation and support.

The past few years, China has been suffering massive scale of natural disasters. As a member of the common home, China is not exempted from the effects of climate change. The territory of China is vast and population is huge. A diocesan charitable organisation has limit in resources and experiences. Caritas Internationalis, without any political intention, is willing to work together with these diocesan charitable organisations in China who faces so many challenges when such disaster hits the area. Therefore, Caritas will continue to organize China Social Pastoral Conference to exchange ideas and information, and to search common grounds of charitable action as the same Catholic Church organisations.

Jan 16, 2016

New Year's Pastoral Letter@Catholic Diocese of Niigata

"We, the Church, are witnesses of Mercy"

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."  (Luke 6:36)

My Dear Sisters and Brothers of Niigata Diocese,

I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Jubilee of Mercy

Pope Francis has decided to launch a year long Jubilee of Mercy from last December 8 to this November 20.  In his official Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee, "Misericordiae Vultus” or “The Face of Mercy," he writes that "the Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person." (12)  Then he continues to write that "wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident." (12) Therefore, we all are invited to join and take part in this Jubilee of Mercy.

Since his election in March, 2013, Pope Francis has been emphasizing importance of Divine Mercy saying that everyone, without any exception, is enveloped by Mercy of God. Holy Father encourages us to take concrete action saying "let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ." (Evangelii Gaudium 49) Then he writes in the Evangelii Gaudium that "Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth." (209) Based on this call, Holy Father invites all of us to pay attention to "the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others." (210)
As we know, Holy Father invited each parishes to accept at least one family of refugees as Syrian refugee crisis deepened last year and he himself took concrete action of accepting a family in Vatican to show that he cares.

Pope Francis invites all of us to be witnesses of Gospel message which is mercy and forgiveness saying that "mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy." (Bull, 10)

What kind of reality are we living in nowadays? We easily make judgements over words and deeds of others and criticism or accusations are commonly heard of. We have lost tolerance in our relationships and overwhelmed by distrustfulness.  Don't you think that we find number of "heart warming stories" in TV shows or Internet sites? It must be that exit of tolerance from the real world forced us to look for it in somewhere as our instinct commands that we need it. If there is no tolerance in our society, then there would be no respect for human dignity. It is because selfish judgements would be given priority. Pope Francis often talk about realization of the society in which no one is excluded. "Globalization of indifference" is the term Holy Father uses to warn all of us to change our selfish minds. This warning is not only for individual level but also for relationships among nations.

In this Jubilee year, I would invite all of you to be witnesses of mercy and forgiveness of God in the midst of our society. Let us try to be witnesses of love and forgiveness of God through our words and deeds. And let us try to form our parish communities to be the place where people or any visitors could feel mercy and forgiveness.

As it has been announced, I have designated following 4 churches as the Jubilee Church with Holy Door of Mercy, namely, Niigata Cathedral, Takada, Yamagata and Akita. Also a year-long relay of prayers throughout the diocese has already started from Niigata Cathedral community. Holy Father is calling us to make this coming Lenten season special and spend it with much more attention while inviting us to organize and celebrate the “24 Hours for the Lord” on March 4-5, prior to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. While taking into consideration of local situations, I would like to ask each parishes to organize special events such as confession services or Eucharistic adoration.

On 14 February, the First Sunday of Lent, I will preside over the rite of election for the Catechumens in the Cathedral. The rite is meant for all catechumens in the diocese who are to be baptized this coming Easter, however because of distance, I am inviting catechumens from nearby parishes alone. Presence of Catechumens from other parishes remind the Cathedral community and Catechumens themselves that we are all part of one large community, the diocese, which, in turn, a part of universal Church which is one body of Christ.

On 14 and 15 September, there will be the Marian Day of Akita in Seitai Hoshikai in connection with the Jubilee of Mercy. While praying with Holy Mother, it will be special time to meditate Mercy of God through Mary, Mother of God. I invite you to join the day with me.

Introducing Chaplaincy to our Catholic Institutions in the Diocese

As is the case with other dioceses in Japan, there are number of Catholic Institutions in Niigata diocese. What I mean by the Catholic Institutions is that kindergartens, nursery, high-schools, junior colleges, child welfare facilities, home for aged and other social welfare facilities which claim "Catholic" as their identity.  In days past, these Catholic Institutions were headed by religious or priests. There were number of religious or priests involved in as their workers, too. In recent years, however, as Japanese society itself is heading into the aged society with few kids, Catholic Church in Japan has been suffering from decline of vocation with very few young priests and religious. That is the reason why, in our diocese, we have number of Catholic Institutions without any priests or religious as their head or, even, there are number of them without any priests or religious involved. I am sure this trend would continue for sometime. For example in Niigata prefecture, if I want to keep priests as the head of Catholic kindergartens, then I have to appoint a priest to more than one kindergarten as their head. And we are already facing limit of these double appointments of priests and have to appoint lay teachers as their heads.
In the light of this situation, the most important issue is how to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions. Therefore, in order to maintain Catholic identity of our Catholic institutions, I have decided to ask all these institutions to introduce the Chaplaincy system. If there are priests or religious being appointed as their head already, then they could be appointed as their chaplain. If their heads were not priests nor religious, then I have asked them to make a contract with priests or religious of their choices as their chaplain. Of course, one priest could work for several institutions as chaplain. These chaplains appointed outside from the institutions should not be involved in the administration but should be adviser on religious matters or conducting religious activities.

I hope through introduction of this chaplaincy, our Catholic institutions may be able to maintain their Catholic identity and deepen it further. The system will be introduced from 1st April.

Vocation for priests and religious

First and most, I would like to thank all of you in the diocese for your continuous prayer for priests and religious vocation. We did not have any seminarians for the diocese since Father Sakamoto had been ordained in 2009.  However, by God's grace, Mr. Shuta Oka from Hyogo prefecture has decided to be a priest for the diocese and will begin his formation in the National Seminary from April. Mr. Oka has been a temporary professed member of Benedictine order till last spring in the monastery at Fujimi, Nagano. It may take at least 6 years to complete the formation program so that kindly remember Mr. Oka in your prayer and also kindly continue to pray for the vocation.

To conclude this pastoral letter, I just want to mention number of points. First of all, about the rehabilitation activities in Tohoku area after 5 years of the disaster. Reconstruction and rehabilitation activities are progressing, though very slowly, but it may take more time to complete. Catholic Church in Japan has been mobilizing entire resources of our communities to support the area through Sendai diocese with assistance from Caritas Japan and will continue to do so till 2021, ten years after the disaster. As we will enter the sixth year of our support activities soon, let us reconsider what we can and should do as their neighboring diocese and let us put the idea into action. As time passes, we should not forget the people in the disaster hit area and resolve again to walk with them.

Then there will be the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, this summer. It will be held from 23 July to 3 or 5 August and the official pilgrimage group from Japan will be organized. I have appointed Fr. Katsuo Matsumoto, SVD of Akita as one of accompanying priests to the group. Youth living in Japan, regardless of their nationalities, aged from 18 to 35 are eligible to join the group. Application is open till the end of April. Any youth to join the group? It will cost around 300 thousand Yen to join the pilgrimage, though, there would be possibilities to send someone from our parishes if the community is willing to support him or her financially.

Finally, I make my pastoral visit for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts in even year and for Akita and Yamagata districts in odd year. Therefore, in 2016, I will make pastoral visits for Niigata, Shibata and Nagaoka districts. Usually I leave it to parish priests to propose date of such pastoral visits so that the date will not conflict with either parish schedules or my schedule.

May God bless you all in Niigata Diocese. May God of mercy and love guide you and protect you through out this new year, 2016.

1st January, 2016
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata

Jan 1, 2016

Happy New Year !

Happy New Year. May God bless you all throughout the year 2016.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Catholic Diocese of Niigata, Japan