Jun 30, 2009

Just 2 hours away from Niigata

One of main reasons why I am so much interested in Khabarovsk is the distance between Niigata and Khabarovsk. The Vladivostok Air has 2 weekly direct flights from Niigata to Khabarovsk on Mondays and Fridays. Flight time? Less than 2 hours. As you know very well, Khabarovsk Catholic Church belongs to the diocese of Irkutsk. Flight time between Khabarovsk and Irkutsk? More than 3 and half hours. So Niigata is much closer to Khabarovsk than Irkutsk. That is one of the main reasons why I think that we should show our solidarity to the Catholic community in Khabarovsk since we are their immediate neighbour.

But during this visit, I also got to know that traveling from Khabarovsk to European cities are cheaper than traveling to Japan. In fact, for this case, distance does not matter for Air company to set the price. After all Russia is a part of Europe. It is also the same situation for us, Japanese. In order to obtain Visa, we have to book air travel and hotel stay together for entire schedule beforehand. And hotel in Siberia is not so cheap. So the same amount of price of a week stay in Siberia may provide one much more days in other tourist destinations in, say, Europe. This could create a future problem when we think about frequent visits to and from Khabarovsk.

Photo above is the former Catholic Church in Irkutsk which is serving as a concert hall at this moment. As what I heard so far, former communist regime took over church buildings in Russia and used them for other purposes such as store rooms. As for the former Catholic Church in Irkutsk which had been used as the concert hall, a pipe organ from Germany has been installed. It seems that for the city government, relocation of this pipe organ is not so easy since the organ was designed specifically for this chapel. By the way, the organ is placed at where an alter should be.

So it seems that this situation makes returning of the church building to Catholic Church difficult. At least a small ground level room had been released for Catholic Church as a chapel. And this place has been the second Catholic Church in Irkutsk. (Photo above. Former Catholic Church in Irkutsk, and now it is the concert hall for the city.)

Jun 29, 2009

Back from Russia

Just to report to you, dear readers, that I have come back from Russia this afternoon to Niigata. Thank you for your prayer for safe journey. In Irkutsk from Tuesday to Thursday, I had a wonderful meeting with Bishop Cyryl Klimowicz. This was not my first visit to Irkutsk. I have visited Irkutsk in 99 and 2000. Especially in September, 2000, I participated the dedication of the Cathedral in Irkutsk. There I met a young Polish SVD missionary who now became a Vicar General of the diocese, Fr.Wlodzimierz, SVD who welcomed us in Irkutsk airport on Tuesday.

Our main purpose of the visit was to discuss with bishop on our intention to establish relationship with Khabarovsk Catholic community and Niigata Catholic community. Fortunately, Bishop Klimowicz was very much in understanding of our intention that the relationship should not be based on any financial tie but rather on the spiritual partnership between two Catholic communities.

From Friday to today, I was in Khabarovsk alone. Since Fr.Marcelo, the Argentinian parish priest and his assistant, Fr. Ivan were to go back to their home country, Argentine, to renew their Russian Visa, I celebrated Sunday Mass with the community. Unfortunately, I do not speak Russian. So I said Mass in English and congregation replied in Russian. Then I preached in English and Sr. Radosty, the Superior of the SSVM translated it into Russian, The SSVM is the female branch of the Argentina-based Institute of the Incarnate Word, formed in 1984. The nuns' congregation was set up in 1988. Fr. Marcelo and Ivan are both members of the Institute and SSVM are sending 3 sisters to Khabarovsk from July to fill the vacuum created by return of Japanese Sisters this Spring.

During my stay, I had yet another privilege to be invited by a Russian Orthodox Seminary to have diner with one of their priests. The diner was really interesting occasion to exchange ideas and information about both Churches. (Photo above: Catholic Cathedral of Irkutsk)

Jun 21, 2009

Going to Russia

I am flying to Irkutsk tomorrow afternoon via Khabarovsk from Niigata with Fr.Kotaro Sakamoto to visit Bishop Cyryl Klimowicz. This is my first time to visit Irkutsk after Bp.Mazur had been transferred to Poland in 2003 on the reason you know well. Though it is not my first time to be near lake Baikal, I have never met the present bishop of the Diocese of San Giuseppe in Irkutsk. I hope to have fruitful discussion with him on our intention to establish relationship with Khabarovsk Catholic community. We will be in Irkutsk till Friday morning and Fr.Sakamoto will return to Niigata on Friday. I will remain in Khabarovsk to celebrate Sunday Mass on 28 and will return to Niigata on 29, Monday. Therefore, the next posting for this blog will be on or after 29 June.

Jun 20, 2009

Lay judge system and the Church

Last Thursday morning, several news reporters of major Japanese companies gathered together at Japanese Bishops' Conference in Shiomi, Tokyo. It is not common sight to see these news reporters in our building since Catholic Church in Japan is just a minority religious group. However, for the issue of SAIBAN-IN, the lay judge system which was introduced on 21 May this year, these reporters were waiting for our official comments which had been discussed during the just-ended annual meeting of the CBCJ.

I quote the official explanation from the English Home Page of the ministry of Justice on the lay judge system.

"The saiban-in (lay judge) system is due to commence on May 21st. 2009. This system is such that those members of the general public who have been selected will participate in trials for the most serious of criminal cases. They will determine the sentence, including whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty, together with professional judges. Once this system commences it is hoped that more people will feel involved in the justice process. The Ministry of Justice has been actively involved in publicizing and promoting the saiban-in system so that more people will be able to understand its role and functions"

According to the opinion of Cannon Lawyer, the expert of the law of Catholic Church, this act of "determine the sentence" could consist of exercising of civil power. Clerics and religious are prohibited to assume public office which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power according to the Cannon Law 285. After consulting the Holy See, Bishops decided that Japanese priests and religious who are eligible to be chosen as the lay judges should not participate the system.

However, as for the laity in the Church, there is nothing to prevent them to be a lay judge. Bishops are asking in the official statement (in Japanese) that laity should act according to their own conscience and make their own judgement. However, at the same time, Bishops expressed their hope that laity would act in respect of Church's teaching and, if necessary, consult priests. (photo above; Bishops and priests attending Mass together in Shiomi)

Jun 18, 2009

The vision of the mission in Japan

So we are on the Bishops assembly in Tokyo. Most of the agenda points were covered by Wednesday evening except several detailed discussion which was left for Thursday morning. Papal Nuncio invited bishops to his residence for dinner and private or intimate exchange of ideas last night. A chapel in the nunciature in Tokyo has been renovated recently and it was my first time to witness the beauty of it. Since several bishops could not attend the blessing of the chapel, Nuncio, Archbishop Alberto Bottari de Castello took time to explain the new design of the chapel by Italian Mr.Cecco Bonanotte. (Photo above. Nuncio explaining the design of the chapel.)

Then this afternoon, Thursday at 3 pm, in order to commemorate the opening of the year of priest, we celebrated an opening mass in St.Ignatius Church. St.Ignatius Church which is annexed to the Sophia University run by Jesuit is quite famous for its size of the community and its international atmosphere. It is the biggest parish in Tokyo. Though today was a week day, quite a number of people took time to travel to the church, even from Niigata, to attend the Mass and pray for us, priests. Mass was presided over by Archbishop Okada of Tokyo together with all the Bishops in Japan, Nuncio, priest delegates from all the diocese in Japan and number of priests working in Tokyo area. After the homily by Fr.Harada from Hiroshima diocese, all the priests present in the Mass renewed our promise which we had made during our ordination. I hope that this year will provide us time and occasion to reflect on our own vocation and identity as priests.

At 5 pm, we started a discussion on the future vision of the mission activities of Catholic church in Japan. For this, we invited a priest from each dioceses in addition to the each bishops. To make the best of this gathering, we asked 2 Jesuit Fathers to be our moderator or coordinator. I am chairing the discussion under the guidance of these 2, Fr.Sumita, the provincial of Jesuit and Fr.Mitsunobu, a professor of theology of the Sophia University. We will see what will be the results of the discussion which supposed to be based on the results, experience and efforts made after the NICE 20 years ago. (NICE is the nationwide congress to discuss about the mission initiatives of Catholic Church in Japan.)

Jun 15, 2009

General assembly of CBCJ has started today

A week long meeting of the annual general assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ) has started today in the Japan Catholic Center in Tokyo (Photo above). There are 3 ecclesiastical provinces in Japan, namely Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki which are made up of 16 dioceses. All together 17 bishops are taking part in the assembly. There are 2 auxiliary bishops in Osaka and Tokyo and Oita is vacant.

This afternoon at 2 pm, Apostolic Nuncio opened the assembly with his speech. As we do every year, first day was dedicated for several reports and also for the meeting on the major seminary. Also to conclude the day, we had 3 separate meetings for each provinces.

Usually, the general assembly ends on Friday but not so for this year. To commemorate the opening of the year of priest, we are to have an opening mass in St.Ignatius Church on Thursday afternoon at 3 pm. Then from Thursday evening to Saturday noon, we are to have a discussion on the vision of the mission of Catholic church in Japan. For this, we invited a priest from each dioceses in addition to the each bishop.

If you would like to know the official results of the deliberations during the assembly, which I can not publish in this blog, kindly refer to the Catholic Weekly.

Jun 14, 2009

Confirmation in Takada

Christ the King Parish in Takada is celebrating its 100th anniversary of the foundation this year. In 1909, a German SVD missionary visited Takada first time to start the evangelization. It was just 2 years after their arrival in Japan from Steyl, Holland. Then first baptism of 3 people were recorded in the register on 19 March, 1911. Over the difficult time of wars, the parish was run by SVD and handed over to Franciscans from Bologna in 1956. Present pastor is Fr.Tarcisio Canducci, OFM who is popularly known as Father Mario. It seems that Fr.Mario has special talent for management as well as talent to attract people to assist him. Because of that, he is now running a home for elderly, KG, a shelter for women and many other activities. Also because of his initiative and assistance from many others, the parish is well known in the area for supporting migrant workers who are facing difficulties and in need of help and also for supproting migrants who have married with Japanese or having a family in Japan.

So today on the solemnity of Corpus Christi, 12 people received a sacrament of confirmation in Takada including 5 junior high students. It is quite unusual to have more than 10 for confirmation at a time in this diocese. But in addition to this surprise, Takada parish organises confirmation of more than 10 people every year. How they manage to maintain the number, I do not know. For one thing, increased number of migrants in the area have contributed to maintain high number of turnout for the confirmation. In fact, several of youth confirmed today were kids of migrants. Fr.Mario was wondering today that the present economic crisis may affect the local community to promote exodus of migrant workers back to their origin and, in consequence, the parish community may loose some of its important members.

Though facing difficulties to establish an integrated community of locals and migrants in the parish and, as I heard several opinions about community formation last night during a gathering with some parish members, a kind of feeling existing among migrant community that they had been treated as guests and not as members, I still have to congratulate Takada Parish community for their tireless effort to overcome these difficulties and trying to find the best way to form better community. (Photo above. Fr.Mario with his altar boys in the sacristy this morning)

Jun 12, 2009

A step forward for Khabarovsk

The Niigata Khabarovsk Catholic Friendship Group met this afternoon at 2 pm in Niigata Diocesan Center for 1st time this year as myself and Fr.Sakamoto are preparing for a visit of the Catholic Bishop of Irkutsk from 22 June to 29. Member of the group consists of those who have joined the previous two visits we made to Khabarovsk last year. Fr.Tadashi Machida of Terao Church is a leader of the group with 3 other lay members. The group discussed the next step to deepen our friendship between 2 church communities in Russia and Japan. Since our diocese can not afford to support other church financially, we are not talking about monetary assistance as such at this moment. Rather we want to continue to make regular visit to Khabarovsk and also invite them to visit us. Fr.Marcelo, the parish priest of Khabarovsk had shared his idea while he was in Niigata few weeks ago. He suggested that we should regularly share our own news between 2 communities to deepen understanding and probably next year during summer time, we may organise a camp for youth in Khabarovsk for both communities. Of course, money matters. It is not so cheap to fly and stay in Russia. Also language is another difficulty. Well, we will try our best to overcome these difficulties and support each other as brothers and sisters in the same faith in Christ.

The group is planning to organise this year's visit of Khabarovsk, probably in October. It would be a flying visit of Friday to Monday tour. Fr.Machida will publish the information soon to invite anyone in the church communities who are interested in to contact him to join the trip.

Jun 10, 2009

Time for gatherings!

This is the season for gatherings, rallies or activities in the diocese. Since Niigata is famous for its heavy snow during the winter, cold season is not for activities in the diocese. Likewise summer in Niigata is also not for activities since it is simply very hot. Hence between cold and hot season, which is between April to June and September to November is considered as the period to organise activities for the vast diocese.

To honor this tradition of the gathering period in the diocese, annual priests rally was held in Tainai city in Niigata from 8 to 10 June. This gathering is meant for all priests working in the diocese, which include diocesan and religious priests alike. All together 31 priests made effort to travel to Tainai to join the gathering in Royal Tainai Park Hotel run by the city government of Tainai.

In order to commemorate the conclusion of the Pauline Year, we invited Fr. Toyonari Sawada, a Paulist Father and a reputed Biblical scholar to give us 2 lectures on the theme of "Deepen our understating of Mission in the year of St.Paul". Fr.Sawada, a young and soft spoken scholar and a professor of several seminaries in Japan, gave us good insights for mission activities in rural parishes by telling us difficulties which St.Paul actually faced while he was trying to proclaim the Gospel, which was based on his personal encounter and relationship with Jesus himself.

Thank you Fr.Sawada. Also thank you for Fathers in the diocese. I hope you have refreshed both your body and spirit during this 3-day gathering in beautiful forest of Tainai. (In the photo above, far left is Fr.Sawada ready for his talk)

Jun 7, 2009

Nagaoka distirct rally held in Tokamachi today

Nagaoka district rally (a general assembly of all the faithful in the district) was held today, the Trinity Sunday in Matsunoyama area of Tokamachi city. More than 160 members from 8 parishes in the district, Omotemchi, Fukuzumi, Tokamachi, Kashiwazaki, Takada, Myoko, Naoetsu and Itoigawa, gathered together in a Buddhist Temple for the beginning of the assembly at 10 am this morning despite of bad weather. Yes, we started our rally in Buddhist temple, Shoin-ji.

As a matter of fact, this is the second time for Nagaoka district to organize this gathering in this particular temple. The very first rally was held in 35 years ago in Shoin-ji. Why in this Buddhist temple? Because the temple has been preserving and taking care of "Maria Kannon" statue from persecution time in Japanese Christian history. The temple itself was established in 1653. According to the tradition of the area, it seems that several Christians had fled from persecution and arrived in the area to hide themselves in deep forest. Fortunately the Temple and people in the village gave refuge to these Christians. In order to maintain their faith in secrecy, Christians made this small statue of Kannon, which is Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism tradition and resembles Holy Mother in our faith.

The statue was recognised as real one from the period of Christian persecution in Japan by late Dr.Shigeru Takada, the historian and a professor of Rikkyo University in 1966.

We had our Sunday Mass in the temple. We could feel the power of the Filipino community in the area who also gathered in number to attend the function today, thanks to the effort of the diocesan migrant director, Fr. Faminialagao, SVD of Nagaoka. Immediately after the Mass, in spite of drizzling weather, we went out to take group photo to imitate the group photo of 35 years ago.

After lunch, Fr.Shigemi Matsui, OFM gave a talk of the history of Christian under persecution in Japan. He himself is from the family of traditional Japanese Christians in Goto island in Nagasaki who managed to hand down the faith in secrecy over generations.

Thank you for everyone who made effort to travel all the way to Matsunoyama to celebrate together today and special thanks to the parishioners of Naoetsu who were in charge of this year's event. See you next year!

Jun 5, 2009

Year of the Priest

In order to make the 150th anniversary of St.John Mary Vianney's death special, Holy Father has decided to start a Year of the priest from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010. To make a solemn beginning of the Year of the Priest in Japan, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) has decided to organise a special opening Eucharist on 18 June 2009 at 3 pm in Tokyo. The Mass in St.Ignatius Church, a Jesuit Parish in Yotsuya in Tokyo, will be presided over by Archbishop Peter Okada, Archbishop of Tokyo and the president of the CBCJ, while all the active bishops in Japan including Papal Nuncio will con-celebrate. Since CBCJ is organising a mini-conference with all bishops and priest delegates from all the 16 dioceses in Japan, one from each diocese, to discuss about evengelization in today's Japan, these delegates will also attend the Mass. Those who have time to come to Yotsuya on 18 June are welcome to join the Mass and pray for priests. Your prayer for us is really needed. (photo above; after the ordination of Fr.Sakamoto in Niigata Cathedral on 6 May, 2009)

Jun 3, 2009

Fly down to Fukuoka for overnight visit

There used to be 2 major seminaries for diocesan priest formation in Japan, one in Tokyo and one in Fukuoka. Tokyo seminary used to be run by Jesuit and later handed over to the bishops. Fukuoka one has been run by Sulpicians from Canada. Not because of decline of vocation, but rather dependence on same professors for same subjects in two seminaries were creating difficulties since Tokyo and Fukuoka is quite far apart, bishops decided to amalgamate 2 seminaries and make one major seminary for diocesan priest formation in Japan from this year with approval from Holy See. Also this was meant to overcome a kind of feeling of separation between graduates of these 2 seminaries.

So from 1st April this year, our major seminary is one seminary with 2 campuses. Tokyo campus is for philosophy and the course for deacons. Fukuoka campus is for Theology. Overall administration was entrusted to Sulpicians while several diocesan priests are working as formators with them. The Rector is Fr.Makiyama, who is a Sulpician residing in Fukuoka and the Vice rector is Fr.Matsuura from Osaka diocese who is residing in Tokyo.

I just made a overnight visit to Fukuoka yesterday and today to give 2 lectures as a part of Missiology course. This is my third time to teach in the seminary. Every other year, several bishops and lay experts take part in this Missiology course for Theology students. I have been talking about Church's development aid (introduction to development studies) and about religious life. I have been give 90 minutes for each topics.

So I prepared power point presentation in order not to bore seminarians. Probably I provided better environment for them to take rest since the classroom had to be made a bit dark. 19 seminarians were in my class today.

Some of the seminarians have been in Fukuoka more than 2 years and others have spent the same time in Tokyo already before the seminaries were amalgamated. It is natural for them to find difficulty to live as one community at this moment since their back ground of seminary lives are quite different. Well, they may overcome these differences in no time.

Jun 1, 2009

Medical consultation for foreign residents in Niigata

There will be the "Medical Consultation Room for foreign residents" in Niigata Catholic Church on Sunday, 7 th June from 11 am to 4 pm. The consultation will be organised by a committee of medical volunteers led by Dr.Fukushima of Terao parish and the Niigata branch of Catholic Doctors Association. Number of volunteers including doctors, nurses and medical students will support the activities. Also they have managed to hire a X-ray check-up-bus for the day.

The consultation will be free of charge, though they will not be able to provide you immediate medical treatment at the spot according to Japanese medical regulation. Instead of the medical treatment at the spot, doctors will give you a necessary information to visit clinics or hospitals near by your residents. They will also provide you a urine test and a X ray check-up. Translation service in English, Chinese, Tagalog, and Russian will be available.

Visit the consultation at Niigata Catholic Church, the Christ the King Cathedral in Higashi-ohata-dori. The nearest bus stop is "Nishi-ohata" or you may easily walk from any "Furu-machi" bus stops towards to sea side. You may also join Japanese Sunday Mass at 9:30 am before the consultation at 11 am.