Jul 31, 2009

The "KA-SHO-REN" to meet in Niigata

The "KA-SHO-REN", Catholic Association of Disabled Persons of Japan is organising their 10th National Assembly from tomorrow to Sunday in Niigata. The venue is Niigata Sogo Fukushi Kaikan, the social welfare center run by Niigata city, which is near the JR Niigata station. Main theme of the assembly is "Realising the Reign of God through our daily life - depart from isolation to trust". The assembly will begin with a lecture by Rev.Fr. Nobuo Masakawa, CMF at 1 pm on Saturday and will close with Mass at 10:30 am on Sunday which will be presided by myself.

More than 200 people are expected to attend the function including disabled persons themselves and other volunteers to support them. Catholic doctors and nurses in Niigata are also joining the function to be ready to help. According to the committee member in Niigata, it has been very difficult to meet the requests from central office of the association since gathering volunteers in Niigata is comparatively not so easy like big cities such as Tokyo which had hosted last assembly 3 years ago. It was expected that the assembly would provide a turning point for Niigata to start organising a local association for disabled persons. I really have to thank all these members of the committee to prepare for the function with limited resources. Also I pray for the blessing of Almighty Father for the success of this 2-days assembly.

Jul 29, 2009

The Japan Catholic 10 Days of Peace

From 6 August to 15, the Catholic Church in Japan celebrates 10 specially designated days to reflect on Peace. Why these 10 days? August 6 is the memorial day for Hiroshima bombing by A bomb in 1945 and August 15 is the day Japan surrendered. Also within these 10 days is August 9 which is the memorial day for Nagasaki bombing. This is the period to reflect on the wars of the past and to work and pray for peace in the future.

In Niigata, to commemorate the Japan Catholic 10 Days of Peace, several activities have been planned to take place.

On 9 August, Sunday at 2 pm in Niigata Cathedral, Rev.Fr. Mikio WADA of Osaka diocese will give a lecture on Peace based on Ps.46 and 149. Fr.WADA is a well-known Bible scholar and a professor in the major seminary. At the same time, he also dedicates much of his time as a pastor in one of parishes in Osaka. He has also been a strong and important member from Catholic Church for the committee for the interconfessional Bible translation. After the lecture, Fr. WADA will preside over a Mass at 3:45 pm. (Photo above. Fr. WADA talking to Niigata diocesan priests)

Then in Naoetsu Peace memorial Park in Joetsu, there will be an ecumenical prayer meeting for Peace on 9 August at 6 pm. During the WWII, there was the Prisoner of War Camp in Naoetsu which housed soldiers from Australia. According to the memorial plaque in the park, Lt.Col. A Robertson and 59 lost their life in Naoetsu during the period of 1942 to 45. So every year during this time, Christians gather together in the park to pray for them and for Peace.

You are invited to join these activities.

Jul 22, 2009

The diocesan mutual-aid system

A few years ago, still as a "novice" bishop, I was in a sacristy of one of our parishes in the diocese on my first pastoral visit of the area. Parish priest was happy to tell me that because of my visit, the church was full of parishioners. My expectation to be welcomed by a big crowd of the congregation was slightly betrayed when I enter the church to see only around 20 people there. But this is the reality of this diocese with 31 parishes for only 7,000 Catholics out of more than 4 million people.

St.Joseph parish in Sakata is one of such small communities in Yamagata prefecture. As I have been not able to assign a parish priest for Sakata, a priest from Tsuruoka has been taking care of the parish. When I made a pastoral visit of Sakata, the community shared their concern over the maintenance of their church building. Since the diocese is not able to support church communities financially, the community has to find their own means to raise fund to maintain their property. But it is not easy task for a community of less than 20. (Photo above. The Sakata community after Sunday Mass in 07) So what can we do?

In 1971, late Bishop Ito, the first bishop of Niigata, established a diocesan mutual-aid system called "Kyosai-kikin" to help such small communities in the diocese to build or maintain their buildings. All parishes in the diocese are member of the system with annual contribution of 4 % of the monthly dues from the faithful. It has been helping so many projects in the diocese. However, to support such small communities like Sakata, the system has to go through its revision so that these financially weak communities would be encouraged to borrow money from the system.

On Monday morning, the administrative board of the system met for the annual meeting in Niigata to begin their discussion on the revision of the system so that they can really meet demands of small communities.

(I will be away on my annual leave for a week beginning from this afternoon and the posting of new articles for this blog would be delayed.)

Jul 21, 2009

Toward the centennial of the diocese

Niigata diocese will celebrate the centennial of its foundation in 2012. The apostolic prefecture of Niigata was established in 1912 with Most Rev. Joseph Reiners, SVD as its first Prefect. Then in 1962, Niigata was raised to be a diocese with Bishop John Ito as its first bishop. So the year 2012 is its centennial celebration. I have asked one laity from each district of the diocese to join the committee to plan for the celebration and the very first meeting of the committee was held in Niigata yesterday. We are still in the stage of gathering ideas but at least we decided 2 items, publishing a commemorative booklet and organising a diocesan rally in October 2012 in Niigata. Details of the celebration will be published as soon as we come with concrete plans. (Photo above. The committee members)

During the discussion, one member posed a quite crucial question if we have enough budget to organise such an august celebration. Answer was simple. No, we don't. The financial situation of the diocese which has only 7,000 Catholics is not so strong as you can imagine. For instance, I could not accept one more priest from one of the Religious orders in Japan last year because I had had no more money to pay his salary. So if you are willing to support this small diocese, you are always welcome to be generous.

I will be away on my annual leave for a week beginning from tomorrow and the posting of new articles for this blog would be delayed.

Jul 19, 2009

Sunday celebration in KAMEDA

St.Joseph parish in KAMEDA was the community where I celebrated the Sunday Eucharist this morning. KAMEDA is a part of Niigata city and famous for a confectionery company, KAMEDA SEIKA which produces popular rice crackers. At present, the parish priest is on sick leave and several priests including myself have been taking turn to celebrate Sunday Eucharist with the community.

The parish council chairman of Kameda is ever ready to welcome visitors on Sundays well before the scheduled time for Mass. I always find his ever readiness comfortable since I do not like rush myself to prepare for Mass. There are some one who is able to arrive at the sacristy a few minutes before Mass and make himself ready to celebrate within a very short time. I can not do that. I would like to be in the sacristy at least 15 minutes before the scheduled time to calm myself to prepare for Mass. It is not only in Kameda but also in many parishes in Niigata diocese, in order to prepare for Mass, recitation of Rosary has been widely practiced. I do understand that there might be quite a number of reasons that one can not reach the parish on time for Mass. But if you can leave your house a bit earlier, then having a prayerful moment before Mass will definitely help you to prepare yourself. In Kameda, recitation of Rosary starts 30 minutes before Mass. It also keeps people away from chatting in a chapel. We should try to keep prayerful atmosphere of our chapel. (Photo above. The entrance of the chapel of Kameda with a sign; Keep quiet. Chapel is for prayer)

Jul 18, 2009


I am sure you have no clue about the title of this post. "INAHO" and "KAMOSHIKA" are names of express trains operated by JR East between Niigata and Aomori via Akita. "INAHO" which runs between Niigata and Akita 3 times a day literally means rice ear since this area is famous for producing good rice. Then "KAMOSHIKA" which runs between Akita and Aomori 3 times a day literally means Japanese deer since this area around Akita has good forest with many animals including these deers. And it was proven so today.

I was in Akita which is in my diocese for 2 days after several meetings in Tokyo. Completing all my duties for the week, I was on my way back to Niigata this afternoon. I boarded 12:49 "INAHO" at Akita station which say good-bye to "KAMOSHIKA" leaving Akita for Aomori at 12:44. From Akita, Aomori is going up to north and Niigata is going down to south. Leaving Akita on time, "INAHO" which just began 3 and half hours trip to Niigata was running smoothly. Then it made a sudden stop. What happened? According to the announcement, a Kamoshika (real deer) suddenly appeared out of nowhere in front of the train, and it seemed the train hit the deer. So it was proven that this is the KAMOSHIKA area and also today "INAHO" met "KAMOSHIKA" twice. (Photo above. "INAHO")

I just got to know that Holy Father fell on Friday and broke his right wrist. Holy Father was on vacation in northern Italy. According to several news sites, he underwent surgery which was successful. Let us pray for his quick recovery.

Jul 13, 2009

Symposium on Human Rights in Sendai

A symposium on Human Rights organised by the Social Action Committee of Japanese Bishops' Conference was held in Sendai on last Saturday, 11 July. The function was the second in 3 consecutive series of the symposium in each of 3 ecclesial provinces, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagasaki. The first one was held in Fukuoka for Nagasaki province on 14 March and the last one will be held in Nagoya for Osaka province on 28 November in Nanzan Church. So the Sendai symposium was for the Tokyo province and attended by more than 200 people who even traveled from neighbouring Iwate, Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures. Iwate and Fukushima are in the Sendai diocese and Yamagata is in my diocese.

Japanese bishops issued a statement last year to commemorate 60 th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which had been adopted on December 10th, 1948. The present symposium was planned to promote the idea of the Declaration among Catholics in Japan since bishops believed that the idea of the Declaration has something common with Gospel message. (Click here for the Bishops' message in pdf file)

For each symposium, 3 bishops from the committee are to give 30 minutes presentation. As for the last Saturday's function, it was Bishop Tani of Saitama, Bishop Hiraga of Sendai and myself to give talks. Bishop Tani who is in charge of the commission for migrants, refugees and itinerant people talked about protecting human rights of migrant workers in Japan. Bishop Hiraga who is in charge of the committee on Buraku discrimination talked about the fight against discrimination in Japan especially on the topic of the past government policy on the severe isolation of patients of Hansen's disease (leprosy) and discrimination against them. I talked about the Poverty and Development since I had been working for Caritas Japan since 1995 and this is the topic I can confidently talk in relation to the Human Rights issue. Bishop Matsuura of Osaka was the MC and the chairman of the committee, Archbishop Takami was also present. (photo above: Far left is Bishop Tani. Archbishop Takami is standing and far right is Bishop Matsuura)

Jul 9, 2009

KG and Catholic Church

As if they were created together from the beginning, kindergartens are quite naturally seen together with Catholic parishes in various dioceses in Japan, especially in Niigata diocese. Why? In early times of mission activities in remote or rural area in Japan such as Niigata, Church leaders thought that KGs could provide missionaries both opportunity to meet with local people and also sufficient income. Bishops in these days might have recommended their priests to be directors of KGs and receive salaries from KGs since dioceses were not financially strong at that time. It worked so well until recently.

In Japan, kindergartens are under the Ministry of Education and Science and day-care centers are under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which means the KGs are considered as institutions for education. Though the religious corporation could run KGs without receiving government subsidies, the Ministry recommends that they should be under the school corporation which receives government subsidies. Being under the Ministry as educational institute and receiving government money means certain amount of public responsibility. Now a days, running KGs requires professional knowledge and experiences as the educator. Priestly ordination does not grants priest faculty and quality to be an educator at once. More over, number of priests are not increasing in most of our dioceses in Japan. So it has been very difficult to maintain our commitment to running KGs as diocesan educational institutes. At the same time, income from KGs are still supporting quite many priests since financial standing of most of rural dioceses in Japan are very weak.

On 7 July, after the monthly gathering of diocesan priests in Niigata, a meeting of KG directors of kindergartens under the SEIBO school corporation which runs 17 Catholic kindergartens within Niigata prefecture. Fr.Kawasaki, VG of the diocese is the president of the school corporation and I as the vice president. It has been becoming very difficult to find enough priests to become KG directors any more. Several priests are already holding the post in 2 KGs at the same time. We have to find the best way to choose successor from lay teachers of our KGs very soon. Most probably, in near future, our Catholic KGs in the diocese may not have any priests as their directors. That would create another headaches for the diocese namely insufficient income to pay salary to priests and loosing the best opportunity to meet local people. Also we have to find the way how to maintain Catholic identities of these institutes without priests being their directors. Or we may have to have complete change of our mind for the direction of our mission activities in Japan. (Photo above. One of our KGs in Niigata diocese)

Jul 7, 2009

Lake Baikal and omul fish

If you are staying in Irkutsk, then you have to visit one of the world heritage, lake Baikal by all means. So we did. We, Fr.Sakamoto and myself, were invited by Bishop Cyryl Klimowicz to make one day trip to lake Baikal during our stay there. Of course, it is not only to enjoy beauty of nature nor taste of omul fish, which is the original fish in the lake, our main purpose was to visit a retreat house of the diocese situated just near by the lake. In fact, it was my second time to visit the house. Almost 10 years ago when I made my first trip to Irkutsk, Bishop Mazur, SVD, then the diocesan bishop of Irkutsk invited me to find the future spiritual formation center for the diocese near the lake. So this time, after 10 years, I was delighted to find that the house is still shining as before and, more over, to know that the house has been well used for the formation in the diocese, especially for the youth. This time when we arrived at the house, we were met by a group of young people of the diocese who had been camping with their spiritual director. (Photo above. Bishop Cyryl, far left, chatting with the youth) After we enjoyed wonderful lunch prepared by the matron, I realised several young ladies were working in the back yard cutting grass. Bishop introduced them as volunteers during school vacation. A good sign of development of the diocesan community.

After a siesta, Bishop Cyryl invited us for a boat ride on the lake. Of course with omul fish and bread, and a can of beer for me and Fr. Sakamoto.

Jul 6, 2009

Arrival of the Japanese edition, the compendium!

The long-awaited Japanese edition of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has just rolled off the press and now on sale from the CBCJ, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan at 3,000 yen plus tax. The 500-page Japanese edition is a translation from the original edition published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Key person for this Japanese edition is Fr.Mick Seigel, SVD, a professor of Nanzan Univeristy and a former secretary for JPIC in the general administration of the Divine Word Missionaries in Rome. He has also organised the symposium on the social doctrine of the Church to commemorate the publication of the compendium on 4 July in Sophia University, 3 October in Nanzan and 3 November in St.Thomas University.

On 25 October, 2004, Cardinal RENATO RAFFAELE MARTINO, the president of the Pontifical council for Justice and Peace had a press conference on the occasion of the publication of the compendium and made the following comment.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching. Faithful to the authoritative recommendation made by the Holy Father John Paul II in No. 54 of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, the document presents "in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church’s social teaching, which is the fruit of careful Magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church’s constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity’s destiny" (Compendium, 8).

So if you are interested in the social doctrine of the Church, try to read this important document now in Japanese.