Mar 27, 2011

Catholic Youths Pray for victims

Today, on the Third Sunday of Lent, number of Catholic Churches in Japan hosted a prayer meeting titled "What we can do now,"  organised by a voluntary gathered youth groups to pray for victims of recent earthquake and tsunami.  In Niigata Cathedral at 3 pm, around 17 people gathered to pray together despite of short notice.  Prayer meeting was organised according to the style of Taize with lot of meditative songs and candles.  One of their leaders in Niigata played organ and the other played a guitar to lead prayers.  I do believe in power of prayer and, thus, would like to ask youth groups to continue to pray for the victims and organise such a prayer meeting again and again. Recovery and rehabilitation process will take time and your prayers are needed.

I have been to Yamagata on Friday to meet a group from Osaka led by Fr. Kanda to discuss about further plan to support Sendai diocese for their relief operation.  Fr. Kanda is well known to many as a priest with "a towel around his neck" while he was taking a leading role in rescue and rehabilitation activities in Takatori after the massive earthquake in Kobe in 1995.  He visited Matsushima area near Sendai to visit Tsunami hit area where the vice mayor of the town used to work as a volunteer in Kobe during the rescue and rehabilitation operation.  As Bishops Conference had decided to support Sendai diocese as the "Team All Japan" and to appoint me as one in charge, Fr. Kanda and his team gave me several good suggestions.  So I asked one of them, a lay person, to remain in Sendai for a while to support Fr. Komatsu, the chancellor of the Sendai diocese, and make the needs analysis.  Then I have decided to call a meeting on 8 April in Sendai to discuss about long term plan to support Sendai diocese with several key players including Bishop Hiraga, Fr. Kanda and Fr. Narui, SVD, a director of Caritas Japan.  Meantime, of course, Caritas Japan will continue its operation in Sendai to assist the Sendai Diocese Support Center. 

New Bishops for Japan

On 25 March at noon, Rome time, Holy Father appointed 2 new bishops for Japanese Church. 

First of all, Holy Father accepted a resignation submitted by Bishop Mizobe, SDB of Takamatsu and appointed Fr. John Eijiro Suwa as his successor.  Bishop-elect Suwa, 63, is a diocesan priest of Osaka and have been working in Takamatsu diocese for sometime upon request of Bishop Mizobe.

Then Holy Father appointed Fr. Paul Sueo Hamaguchi, 62, as a bishop of Oita.  Oita diocese has been vacant since Bishop Miyahara had been transferred to Fukuoka in March, 2008.  Bishop-elect Hamaguchi is a diocesan priest of Nagasaki and have been working in Takamatsu for sometime upon request of Bishop Mizobe.

Congratulations for new bishops. Let us remember Bishop-elect Suwa and Bishop-elect Hamaguchi in our daily prayer.  If you would like to find their photos, click here to jump to CBCJ Home Page. Also kindly pray for a new bishop of Sapporo.  Since November 2009, the see of Sapporo is vacant and I have been serving as their apostolic administrator.

Mar 25, 2011

Japan Earthquake 6: Bishops met in Tokyo

There was an extraordinary meeting of Bishops in Japan yesterday to discuss about our response to the recent disaster.  The meeting was held in Tokyo and 7 bishops managed to attend.  Unfortunately 2 bishops from the most affected dioceses, Sendai and Saitama, could not join the meeting so that I had to brief other bishops on the situation of the affected area and responses of Caritas Japan and two dioceses within past two weeks.  Bishops made resolution to work together and put our maximum effort to support Sendai and Saitama diocese.  Especially for the most affected diocese, Sendai, bishops asked me to play a role of liaison between Bishop Hiraga and the Bishops' Conference since I have been involved in the relief operation already as the president of Caritas Japan.  Sedani diocese is spread into quite a vast territory from north to south.  Catholic communities in Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures constitute Sendai diocese and they have already began their own activities to support local victims.  I may have to support Fr. Komatsu, who is in charge of Sendai diocese support center to organise all these activities so that each player may get enough attention and support to continue long-term activities.

Also during the meeting, several bishops complained that there are too many fund-raising going on at this moment and their purpose are confusing.  So we made a clear distinction of 4 different fund-raising activities of Catholic Church at this moment.

  1. Caritas Japan receives donation for activities to support victims of the disaster in general.
  2. Sendai diocese receives donation to rebuild Churches and Church facilities and to support members of Catholic community.
  3. Saitama diocese receives donation for supporting victims in the diocese.
  4. Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC) receives donation to support victims or evacuees among foreign residents.

Please refer to the link (Home Page of the Bishops' Conference) for more information on the disaster relief in English.

As I have mentioned before, I believe, a fund raised by Caritas Japan will be, and already has been, utilised for our activities in general to support victims of the disaster.  Therefore, assisting the Sendai Diocese Support Center is one of these activities and is NOT only activities of Caritas Japan. Caritas Japan has already assisted number of applications from other dioceses for shelter programs.  Each diocese have their own contact person for Caritas activities, though titles vary in each diocese, and they will consult with Caritas Japan office to find out possibilities to assist certain program of supporting victims in respective dioceses.

Mar 20, 2011

Japan Earthquake 5: SAITAMA support center opens

Bishop Tani of Saitama has announced yesterday that the Saitama diocese had opened the Saitama Diocese Support Center for the relief operation in his diocese for victims of both recent disaster and the crisis caused by the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  At this moment, the center is located within the diocesan chancellery office but it may be relocated in Mito soon.

According to Bishop Tani, the Support Center has 4 objectives at this moment.  First of all, it will assist Sendai Diocese Support Center to establish a group of volunteers to visit victims in shelters.  Secondly, through visitation by volunteers in Ibaragi, Northern Tochigi, Southern Fukushima, it will provide victims psychological care, medical support and language support.  Then it will coordinate among parishes and religious houses within the diocese to provide temporary shelter for victims.

You may contact the Saitama diocese support center at 090-9972-4946.  Rev. Deacon Yabuki is in charge.

Yesterday afternoon, 2 staff members of JLMM (Japan Lay Missionaries Movements) stopped at Niigata Bishop's House on their way to Sendai via Yamagata.  They will join the Sendai Diocese Support Center to help the staff members of Caritas Japan to form the basis of entire relief activities in Sendai diocese.  I went out with them to one of the biggest "Home Center (hardware store)"  in Niigata to purchase several goods needed for the Sendai center.  (Photo above)

It has been not so easy for private sector to fully pour our potential capacity into the disaster area because of typical Japanese bureaucratic system.  I have several experiences of being in a conflict zone as a Caritas member out side Japan.  Compare with the working situation of NGOs including Caritas in these areas, here in Japan, the private sectors or NGOs have tremendous difficulties to be recognized as partners of public sectors.  Japanese government does not declare any emergency and usual bureaucratic process has to be observed with quite limited exceptions.  This is one of the reason why Caritas Japan members have difficulties to reach the most affected area immediately after the disaster had happened.  But we are doing our best to maximize our effort to support victims.

Mar 17, 2011

Japan Earthquake 4: SENDAI

I am just back from Sendai.  I have been there to visit Bishop Hiraga of Sendai with Bishop Tani of Saitama to discuss about the details of Catholic response to the disaster of earthquake and tsunami.  We have decided to open the Sendai Diocese Support Center to coordinate volunteers from all over Japan and make concrete plan for future relief operation.  If you are interested in helping victims as volunteer, you may contact the Support Center to obtain detailed information.  You may reach the center at 090-1217-3233

The head of the center is Bishop Hiraga and a staff from Caritas Japan will stay at Sendai to support the operation.  Caritas Japan will continue to accept donation within Japan.  Sendai diocese also accept donation to support Catholic Church in Sendai.  Saitama diocese also accept donation for the Church.  The operation of the Sendai Support Center will be assisted by the fund from Caritas Japan.  If you want to donate from outside Japan, you may refer to the Home Page of Caritas Internationalis.

I visited one of the Tsunami hit area near Sendai, Tagajo-city.  The photos above are one of the typical scene in Tagajo bay area.  The photo was taken at the place which is 2 km away from the sea.  There were hundred of cars and trucks left on the road and destroyed by Tsunami.  I do not know how long it may take to bring these places normal.  Pray for the victims.

From Niigata diocese, Fr. Honma of Yamagata is providing a shelter at Yamagata for 20 people and Shinjo for 30 people.  Shinjo is meant especially for Non-Japanese victims.  You may contact Fr. Honma in Yamagata Church.

P.S. Fr. Honma added Nagai Church as a shelter for 20 people.  You may contact Fr. Honma on his mobile phone at 080-6016-8088

Mar 15, 2011

25 years as a priest

Today I celebrated my silver jubilee of priestly ordination.  I was ordained a priest on 15 March, 1986 in Nanzan Catholic Church, Nagoya, by late Bishop Nobuo Soma of Nagoya.  For the year 1986, the Japan Province of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) had only myself for the priest ordination while 2 other confreres from Poland were ordained together as deacons.  One of them is Fr. Ziebura, a parish priest of Nishimachi.  Also Fr. Kashirajima and Fr. Ohmatsu were ordained deacon during the same Mass for Redemptrist (CSsR). 

As we had our Lent recollection for diocesan priest in Niigata today, I celebrated the jubilee with my diocesan brothers in a crypt of Niigata Cathedral.  I would like to thank all of you for your prayer and support for past 25 years.  Without your prayer and support I could not fulfil my duty as priest and bishop.  Also I ask you to continue to pray for me so that I would be your worthy servant.

As victims of recent earthquake and Tsunami are suffering and so many people are still waiting for their rescue, please kindly remember them in your prayer.  Countless people lost their precious lives.   Families are separated.  Many lost everything.  I am going to visit Sendai tomorrow with Bishop Tani to discuss the plan of relief activities of Japanese Catholic Church with Bishop Hiraga of Sendai.  Since train service is not functioning to Sendai and express way is closed, and also gas station is Sendai are mostly closed, we will go by Bishop Tani's Toyota Prius.

Mar 14, 2011

Japan Earthquake Update 4

The National Meteorological Agency yesterday announced that the 11 March massive earthquake was measured magnitude (Richter scale) 9.0 rather than 8.8 as announced earlier.  Also all the Tsunami Warning has been cancelled, however the Agency still suspects possibilities of strong after quake for sometime.  Fukushima nuclear power plant is still in critical situation.  Because of the shortage of supply of electricity by Tokyo Electric Company, Government decided to introduce rotating electricity cut in Tokyo and surrounding area from today.  Rescue work is still going on and the entire picture of the disaster is yet to be known.

Catholic Diocese of Sendai has just issued its situation report this morning compiled by Fr. Komatsu, a diocesan chancellor.

According to the report:

  1. Fr. Andre Lachapelle, MEQ, 76, a parish priest of Shiogama Catholic Church has passed away during the disaster. It seems that he died of heart attack. 
  2. Despite communication difficulties, most of the Church buildings have been found safe and intact. 
  3. These Churches in coastal area which was hit by Tsunami in Ofunato, Kamaishi, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki , as they are located on a hill, might be intact by Tsunami. 
  4. Miyako Church might be hit by Tsunami but details are not known yet. 
  5. A chapel building of Sukagawa Church in Fukushima was damaged. 
  6. No information from coastal area of Fukushima yet. 
  7. Sendai diocese thanks all the people who have been sending messages of encouragement.   

Mar 12, 2011

Japan Earthquake update 3

Holy Father has sent his message of encouragement to Archbishop Ikenaga, the President of CBCJ, this morning.

My office in Niigata has managed to contact Fr. Komatsu, the chancellor of Sendai diocese, through e-mail.  He could manage to reply only after Sendai got electricity back this evening.  According to him, Bishop Hiraga of Sendai is fine.  He is still working hard to assess the damage of entire diocese but it is not so easy since the phone system in the area is not functioning well enough yet.

Fukushima nuclear power plant is in serious trouble as it has been reported widely.

It is quite difficult for me to watch TV coverage of Tsunami since my hometown, Miyako where I was born and was baptised, has been badly damaged.  It is chilling to witness, even though it is only through recorded media on TV, strong tsunami wave invading town of Miyako with such a mighty power.  We are nothing in front of the power of natural disaster.  We still do not know about the fate of Parish in Miyako.  The parish is nearby the train station of Miyako city. 

Japan Earthquake Update

Damage caused by yesterday's massive earthquake in Japan has not been clearly established.  Rescue operation by government agencies and army has been going on but, according to media reports, quite number of people are still waiting to be rescued.  Massive Tsunami destroyed number of coastal cities in Sendai diocese.  I have not yet been able to communicate with the Diocesan office of Sendai and I am yet to know the damage of Catholic Church in Sendai diocese.  Part of Saitama diocese, especially in the coastal area has been also badly affected. 

There was a strong earthquake this morning around 4:30 am in Niigata.  According to Fr. Bassi of Kashiwazaki, Tokamachi Catholic Church's Kindergarten building was slightly damaged but there are no report of heavy damages.

Caritas Japan is starting a campaign to call for donation within Japan today.  Since the very first stage of the rescue operation needs professional skill, private organisations have limited part to play.  We may have to prepare for the second stage, especially immediately after people are secured in evacuation centers which will be, or have been, designated by local government.

It seems that the nuclear power plant in Fukushima is in critical situation.  This morning, government declared that the people within 10 km of the plant to evacuate and also ordered the electricity company to reduced the pressure within the plant, which means discharging radioactive materials into open air.

P.S. Telephone service to Japan, especially to the affected area has been limited.  Mobile phone system is functioning in the affected area but connection has been limited by the company to protect the exchange machines.

P.S. 2:  As at 10 am Japan time, according to the police report, with in 8 Prefectures and Tokyo, 287 dead has been confirmed and 725 people are reported missing.

P.S.3: As at 3 pm Japan time, according to the police report, 519 dead has been confirmed and 735 people are reported missing.

Earthquake in Northern Japan

Northern part of Japan has been hit by one of the biggest earthquake in the recent history at 14:46 on 11 March.  It was measured magnitude (Richter scale) 8.8 which is the biggest earthquake in Japan since the National Meteorological Observatory began its observation of earthquake in 1923.  We still do not know the real picture of the damage caused by the earthquake.  Tokyo was also affected.  All the train service was stopped till midnight so that people working in Tokyo could not go home today including our staff members in the General Secretariat of Catholic Bishops Conference.  Afterquake is still occurring.  Several Tsunami have hit wide area of Northen Japan and the National Meteorological Observatory still maintains its waring for major Tsunami at this moment.  We still do not know how many people were killed by this Tsunami.    There is a quite huge nuclear power plant in Fukushima which has been damaged also.  We still do not know how it is at this moment but the government has already ordered those living within 3 km of the plant to evacuate.  The plant has stopped immediately after the quake but the facility to cool down the plant was damaged.  Most of the affected area is in Sendai diocese.  We have difficulty to communicate with Sendai diocese through phones at this moment so that we do not know the damage of Church facilities.  Caritas Japan will organise to raise fund. However at this moment, we may not able to organise rescue operation as such.  Government has mobilised army for the rescue mission and US army is also mobilised.  Church will concentrate on rehabilitation operation after we assess the damage.  Miyako city which was hit by Tsunami is my hometown.  It was hit by big Tsunami in 1960.  Again it was hit by big Tsunami.  Please remember victims in your prayer.

As at 1 am on 12 March, according to the National Police Service, 133 people were killed and 536 people are missing.  Then 722 people have been injured.

At the moment of the earthquake, I was at the other side of the epicenter.  The epicenter, Miyagi, is facing the pacific ocean.  I was in a train from Akita going back to Niigata at Yamagata, 150 km west of the epicenter facing to the Japan sea.  The train made emergency stop immediately after the earthquake and could not resume the operation.  We were standing at the spot for 5 hours.  Around 7 pm, the train company provided us transportation by bus to Niigata.  I arrived at Niigata by 11 pm.

Mar 5, 2011

Groundbreaking ceremony in Sanjo KG

In the late afternoon on 2 March, a groundbreaking ceremony for Shirayuri Kindergarten was held in Sanjo despite of cold and windy weather with snow.  Because of harsh weather, most of the ceremony was held in a newly built chapel building of Sanjo parish.  However, as the most important element of the ceremony which is breaking the ground had to be done outside at the very spot of the construction, we went out to endure cold and strong wind.  Fr. Ishiguro, a parish priest and a director of the KG, broke the ground with spade, a symbolic spade made out of wood and was joined by the chairman of the construction company, Mr. Watanabe who broke the ground with a harrow.  Staff members of the KG, several parents with their kids and some of the parishioners attended the ceremony.

Sanjo parish has completed the first phase of their renovation plan already by the end of last year when their new chapel with rectory was built.  This is the beginning of the second phase.  They will build a two story building behind the chapel for the KG which  will be connected to the existing two story building.  Then after the completion of the new building for the KG, then oldest part of the KG which host present chapel on roof top will be demolished.  In order to complete all these construction by the end of summer holidays, the groundbreaking ceremony had to take place in the beginning of March.

I have to congratulate Fr. Ishiguro and entire parishioners of Snajo who managed to accumulate quite a lot of fund to built their new chapel.  Of course, they spent quite some time to accomplish their goal.

Mar 1, 2011

Shinjo under heavy snow

On 28 February, I made a pastoral visit of Shinjo Catholic Church, Our Lady of Snow in northern Yamagata prefecture.  In fact, even though I made a last-minute decision to visit Shinjo, more than 30 members made good effort to gather for Sunday Mass at 10 am which was 4 hours ahead of their usual Sunday Mass time of 2 pm.  2 pm Sunday Mass.  Yes, it is because the Shinjo community does not have their own priest and Fr. Honma of Yamagata is in charge.  Yamagata is more than an hour drive from Shinjo.

As you may see from the photo above, and also you may refer to my story of dedication of the Church last October, majority of the community members are from Philippines and their children are also valuable members of the community.  It is not so easy to find many kids anymore in our parishes but, here in Shinjo, I could meet so many kids.  Filipino members are trying hard to establish good family life in this rural area as a wives of Japanese farmers.  And you may see from the photo below, Shinjo is under heavy snow at this time of the year.  The community had to spend more than thirty thousand yen (USD 3,500) to hire people to remove snow from the chapel roof.  The community owes quite an amount to the diocese to complete their building last year.  Now they had to spend more to remove snow.  Such a difficulty.  But the members are in good smile as usual.  

After the Mass they organised a small party to welcome me.  Wonderful time to be with them.  After so many years in Japan without Church facilities in this rural area, finally they got a place to come together on Sundays.  Here they are able to pray together, eat together and share stories together.  Thank God for this wonderful gift of people to our diocese.