Dec 24, 2014

Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 3

5: Former Caritas Japan program officer turned to be a nun.

On 8 October in Sendai, Ms.Sawako Inae, former program officer of Caritas Japan, professed her first religious vows as a member of the Charity Sisters of Ottawa after two years of novitiate. I presided over the Solemn Eucharist in Higashi Sendai Catholic Church as her former Boss.

Sr.Sawako used to work for UNDP before she joined Caritas Japan. She was one of the most efficient program officers we had in Caritas Japan. On 15 March, 2011, a few days after the massive earthquake and tsunami in Sendai diocese, I traveled to Sendai with others of Caritas Japan including Sr.Sawako to assess the situation and discuss rescue and rehabilitation plan with local bishop. From that day, Sr.Sawako together with Fr. Daisuke Narui, SVD, who was a secretary of Caritas Japan Committee to remain in Sendai to organise the center of emergency response of Catholic Church which later called the Sendai Support Center. Sr. Sawako was charged to visit local communities of the disaster hit area to find real need of people so that Caritas Japan might be able to execute effective emergency support program. She did marvelous work.

While she was in Sendai, she stayed in a convent of Charity Sisters of Ottawa without any intention to become a religious. Then one day, probably after a year of her stay in Sendai, she contacted me to tell me that she wanted to be a religious. That was one of the biggest surprise in my life. Such an active lady in development field and disaster relief field. Such a strong lady who could withstand any harsh environment in other countries. God has his own plan for us.

To proclaim good news is our unavoidable duty as Christian. And Japanese Catholic Church has been facing challenges in our way of evangelisation through our experiences in the relief activities in Tohoku area.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" as follows.
"The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.(25)"
Those Catholics who are working in the relief activities as volunteers or Caritas staffs translate these three concepts of nature of the Church into reality everyday.  To work among people hit by disaster is indeed witness of gospel value in words and deeds. Every evening at the end of daily activities in Caritas Volunteer bases, everyone, including non-Catholic volunteers, come together to have silent period and sharing. That is in fact experience of liturgy and prayer. Above all, entire activities are act of charity based on our faith. In fact, the deepest nature of the Church exists in the midst of relief activities of Caritas in the Tohoku area. Immersing deep into these realities, I am sure, Sr.Sawako had deep experience of conversion in her faith and decided to dedicate herself entirely to God. God really has his own plan for us.


Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 2

3: Laity formation program on the Evangelii Gaudium

I had several chances during this autumn season to share my thoughts on the Evangelii Gaudium in which Pope Francis clearly shows his vision on the Church's direction. Especially in Niigata district, study sessions for laity were organised on 18 and 25 October in the parish hall of the Cathedral. More than 60 people joined the session.

It would be quite a challenge to Catholics living in Japan to follow the directives of Pope Francis that Church should go forth to peripheries, to the poor and marginalised. Also how we should understand his call that Church should be poor for the Poor as we live in relatively rich country and majority are, in fact, not poor as such. We should not limit this call of Holy Father just to take care of physically poor people but should look around the reality of this society to find marginalised or forgotten people. There are, for example, forgotten people in Tohoku area especially in Fukushima. Already almost 4 years have passed since the 11 March disaster. We know that people there are still struggling to re-establish their normal lives but unable to do so. While we know that we are also busy with other concerns and began to forget about "their" concern. People are marginalised and forgotten. Because of financial strain of the government, the social welfare system has been going through bumpy reform and budget cuts. Yes, elderly people are marginalised and forgotten. Because of increase of population in middle and low income group and the gap between rich and poor are widening, traditional family system are falling apart. Both parents are busy for their works and kids are left behind and forgotten, though it is not the intention of parents as such. There are so many forgotten and marginalised in Japanese society for which Church alone can not find proper solution. Therefore, it is important for all our laity to know the direction given by Holy Father so that each one of us could be source of action in different parts of the society.

We might have similar program next autumn in Niigata district. For next one, I may talk about the "Ad Gentes"

4: Golden Jubilee of foudation of SEISHIN Girls High School in Niigata

On 31 October, SEISHIN (pure heart) Girls High School celebrated its golden jubilee of foundation in Niigata. It was established by Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur 50 years ago on the request of late Bishop Ito, the first Bishop of Niigata as a sole Catholic High School in Niigata prefecture. Still today, it is only one Catholic High School in this part of my diocese and, more over, a sole school exclusively for girls in private school sector in Niigata.

Unfortunately the Sisters decided to pull out from the administration of the school a few years ago and transferred it to a local business people who are not Catholics. Fortunately the new administration body decided to maintain the school as a catholic one and invited me and other Catholic laity to join the board so I decided to designate it as Catholic School. 

We need Catholic educational institution in Japan where Catholic population is absolute minority. In Niigata diocese, we have only seven thousand Catholics among more than four million people. How can we reach non-Catholic population without these educational institutions including kindergartens? So it is one of the priority of my diocese to consider how to maintain Catholic identity of this school which is under administration of almost non-Catholic board members.

At least, the Golden Jubilee celebration began with Holy Eucharist presided over by myself.   

Major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese: part 1

It has been quite long since I posted last article in October. Yes, I have been quite busy and writing in English is not easy. So following are some major events in October to December in Niigata Diocese with some photos.

1: 90th anniversary of foundation of St. Mary Kindergarten in Tsuruoka city in Yamagata prefecture on 11 October.

Catholic community was established by French missionaries (MEP) more than 100 years ago in Tsuruoka and the present Church building was built in 1903. By the way, this Church building has been designated as the National Important Cultural Properties in 1979. Then 90 years ago, the kindergarten was established by SVD missionaries who took over the pastoral care of the area from French missionaries. It has been entrusted to the Missionaries of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary from late 50's till last year, but at this moment SVD priests, Fr. Ban, has been in charge. (Fr.Ban Hachiro, above photo center left)

2: Golden Jubilee of Fr. Peter Osamu TAKAYABU.

Fr.Takayabu, now 76 years old, is a diocesan priest of Niigata and ordained a priest on 20 March 1964. He is one of the pioneers of the diocesan priests. Fr. Takayabu served for many years as the Diocesan Chancellor and also represented the diocese for many national commissions in the bishops conference. Fr.Takayabu suffered a mild stroke 10 years ago but still active in pastoral care of people as he knows well that there are only 15 diocesan priests in Niigata. Now he resides in Takada Catholic Church as one of cooperative priests. On 13 October, we celebrated his Golden Jubilee in Takada catholic Church. Congratulations, Fr.Takayabu!

Takada Catholic Church is under the pastoral care of Franciscans (OFM) at this moment. Photo below is taken on 26 October, after the golden jubilee celebration, in Takada Catholic Church. It was a Mass for Confirmation. Though the diocese is small, Takada Catholic Church celebrates the Sacrament of Confirmation every year.

Oct 23, 2014

Recent pastoral visits in Niigata

Pastoral visit of Shirone Catholic Church on 28 September. Father Yamagashira, in the photo, is in charge of both Kameda and Shirone Catholic Churches in Niigata city. Therefore Sunday Mass in Shirone is said at 1:30 pm. And this is the community of Shirone. In the photo below, white building is a part for Church and orange building at right hand side is for Kindergarten. Because of my visitation, an organist from other parish came to play music for Mass.

Pastoral visit of Sado Catholic Church on 5 October. Sado is an island and 2 hand half hour ferry ride to reach from Niigata city. Church building is more than 100 years old built by French missionaries. Again community here is also so small and aging. There were two Masses on 5 October. 9:30am for the original parish community and 11 am for Filipino community in the island. Parish priest is Fr.Kawasaki and Fr.Lorenzo, the migrant chaplain for the diocese was visiting the Filipino community on that Sunday.

 Though an aging society with fewer number of children is the current trend in Japanese society as a whole, this problem is much more acute in rural areas such as our diocese. Quite a number of farmers have been facing difficulties to find spouses from the native Japanese community. Therefore, it has become commonplace to see foreign-born wives in farming villages in the diocese. The majority of these wives are from the Philippines and, thus, it has become a pressing necessity to find a suitable way to extend pastoral care to this new type of immigrants to our diocese. In October 2010, we could manage to dedicate a church for one of these migrant communities in the city of Shinjo in Yamagata prefecture. But we may see many more migrant Catholics in all over the diocese.
An aging society with fewer children and drastic shift of youth population to major cities means the collapse of the present local communities. Recent report from one of the governmental think tanks on population change in Japan said by the year 2040, decreasing population may force more than 890 communities to close them down. Especially, according to the report, in Akita and Yamagata, 80% of their communities will perish by year 2040. This trend of decrease of population will definitely affect Catholic communities in the diocese.
As we have more than 30 parish communities in 3 prefecture which have been suffering from population decrease, the Diocese will definitely face severe challenge to maintain present number of Catholics. What are we going to do?
According to the government statistics in 2013, the Shinto group claims 3,713,187 followers in the Niigata diocese. At the same time, Buddhist sects claim that they have 2,257,855 members.  However, these numbers cannot be accurate since the sum of members of Shintoism and Buddhism far exceeds the total population of the Niigata diocese which is 4,488,904 in three prefectures. 
As a matter of fact, most of the population does not feel that they personally belong to these traditional religions, since both are seen as a matter of custom, with Shinto considered the backbone of Japanese culture and traditions and Buddhism considered as the religion of family tradition. Particularly regarding the Buddhism, people feel compelled by custom to maintain their Family altar (Butsu-dan) which houses plates indicating deceased ancestors. Also, the first-born son has an obligation to maintain the family grave. So the majority of the population considers their practice of Buddhism as limited to funerals and to rituals connected with ancestor worship. However, especially in rural areas, people feel a much stronger connection to both the Buddhist temple and the Shinto Shrine in their area as the uniting factor for their family and the local community respectively.
Unfortunately, past 20 years, Japanese public became quite suspicious over religious activities based on several sad incidents caused by new religious movements in Japan such as AUM Shinrikyo's mass murder case in Tokyo in 1995.  Also effects of secularization are quite evident especially among youth.  Traditional rural communities are quite conservative against any new initiatives and very cautious in accepting any changes in life style brought from outside world.  This is very much so in my diocese since majority of local communities in 3 prefectures are rural farming villages.  Because of the not-welcoming atmosphere towards to outsiders of this area, most of our parishes are located in rather developed towns or cities where people are much more open to new initiatives.  Unfortunately we do not have any strong holds in rural area. 
Traditional methods to penetrate into rural area such as through social welfare activities or through development programs does not work here since these concerns have been well taken care of by local governments for many years.  Farmers have been a strong supporter of present national government run by LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) for past 60 yeas because the government has subsidized rural communities abundantly for many years.  We still can not find a suitable way to go into the reality of rural communities.
Having said this, however, I still believe in the power of dialogue. It actually does not mean that we should engage ourselves in real talking with people but it is rather showing ourselves in the local communities doing something different and good or attractive. Such as our Caritas volunteer activities in Sendai diocese after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2014.
Dialogue with people does not necessary mean actual conversation as such. How we create relationship with local people. Through our charitable activities, we could be witness of love of God. And through our attitude to be with local people in need, we could be witness of mercy of God and that would be our new evangelization in Japan today.

My talk in Singapore on 24 August, 2014

Caritas Singapore Social Mission Conference,
23 August, 2014
"I want a Church which is poor and for the poor"
What do these words of Pope Francis mean for us as Christians today?

by Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD (President, Caritas Asia)
"Everybody seems to have forgotten us"

This phrase has echoed in my heart since I started work with Caritas Japan in 1995. Ordained a priest of the Society of the Divine Word/the Divine Word Missionaries in 1986, I received a mission assignment to Ghana, West Africa. Until my return to Japan in 1994 I worked on my own in a bush parish with 3000 parishioners, a main Church and some 20 out-stations. Need I mention there was no running water or electricity, even in the main village. Any difficulties you might conceive of as present in Africa were present in that community – poverty, a very lengthy list of diseases, lack of education, and no job opportunities for young people. But I am not here today to share my experiences from my time in Ghana – in Ghana the people were optimistic, they always had hope. Despair was not present, despite all the difficulties they faced.

In March of 1995, I found myself back in Africa, as part of a Caritas Japan volunteer team, but this time in Bukavu, in what was then called Zaire, just across the border with Rwanda. Genocidal actions in Rwanda had already begun in April 1994, and with the establishment of (a Tutsi) new government in Kigali in July of that year, Hutu people, though the majority, began flooding across the border into Zaire. So began the Rwanda refugee crisis, a crisis that saw more than 2 million flee the country. The population of the camp in Bukavu soon reached some three hundred thousand. Initially the response was in the hands of the local diocesan Caritas organization, but they were soon joined by UNHCR and Caritas Internationalis. Caritas Japan was involved from the end of 1994 through till May 1995. While I was there one of the camps where Caritas Japan was assigned was attacked by an armed group resulting in the deaths of some 30 refugees.

In August 1995 I returned to Bukavu on a fact finding tour of the camps. Because of security concerns the camps where Caritas Japan worked had been shut down, but I visited other camps in the area. At a meeting with a group of leaders in one of the camps I asked them what were their immediate needs. They mentioned the usual problems, shortage of food and medical supplies, but then one of them spoke the words I began with – “Everybody has forgotten us.” He then continued, “Father, you said you come from Japan. When you get back there, tell them we are still here in the camps. Everybody seems to have forgotten us.”
His words pierced the depths of my heart. Even with all the physical difficulties they faced, they might be able to survive if they could find hope for their future. However, what they found instead was that people all over the world had been already begun to forget them. Without hope for future, how they could endure these hardships?

April 2005, I found myself in Pondicherry, south east India. Pondicherry and the surrounding areas were hit by the tsunami that occurred, as a consequence of the massive earthquake that struck Sumatra, Indonesia, in December 2004. I visited the temporary housing of the victims where an old lady explained how the tsunami had wiped out her village. In the days and months immediately the tsunami numerous NGO’s has poured into the village, offering help and assistance to those affected. Now four months after the disaster many of the NGO’s were pulling out. The survivors’ hopes for the future began to fade. She also used the phrase I’d heard in Bukavu, “Everybody has forgotten us.”

August 2005 saw me visiting Gulu, northern Uganda. As the evening drew on I went to a Catholic school to meet some children. They were not there to study but for their own safety. These “night commuters”, as they were known, young children, many of grade school age, travelled every night to schools, hospitals and churches, places where they hoped they’d be secure and safe from anti-government armed marauders who abducted children and forced them to become child soldiers or slaves. “Night commuters” and the abduction of children has been part of life there for some twenty years, but was unreported by the media, and so unnoticed by the wider world. Once more I heard that same phrase from Caritas volunteers, “everybody has forgotten us”. More recent reports, thank God, tell of an overall improvement in the security situation so there are no longer “night commuters”, But for some twenty years, they were overlooked, forgotten.

September 2011 saw me visit Kesennuma, in the north of Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan: I was born in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, some 150kms further north, and lived there till I was 5 years old. I visited a kindergarten to hear their stories of the tsunami that struck that area on March 11th, earlier that year. One assistant head teacher told of her escape from the tsunami and ensuing fire. Six months had passed, and they already felt they were forgotten. The emergency services, the police and firefighters were now only present in reduced numbers. Most of the members of the Self-Defense forces had also been withdrawn. Many of the NGO’s were scaling down the levels of their commitment. People whose presence had been a symbol of hope, an assurance of their survival, a hint that a renewed future was possible were moving away. With their departure, in the eyes of the teacher, so also was their fragile hope for the future. And they, the teacher, her community, were being left behind.

Sep 22, 2014

Hiroshima landslides

Hiroshima, well known city as symbol of nuclear bombing tragedy, was hit by heavy rainfall on 20 August this year. Massive rainfall was record breaking for meteorology in Hiroshima and it caused several landslides in hill side of the city, especially in the Asa-kita district and Asa-minami district. 74 people lost their lives and more than 300 houses were lost.

Hiroshima diocese immediately responded through newly established diocesan disaster support center. Fr. Harada is in charge of it. Fr. Harada opened a volunteer center in Gion Parish in Asa-minami district which has been under pastoral care by Jesuits. The volunteer center has been named the Caritas Hiroshima Volunteer Base and Caritas Japan is supporting its activities same as Tohoku area.

Almost a month has passed and I finally found time to travel to Hiroshima to visit the area on 17 September with Mr. Tadokoro, the director of Caritas Japan.

We were welcomed by Bishop Maeda of Hiroshima, who has been transferred to Osaka as its archbishop recently. As you may see from photos, small stream of the hills behind these housings turned to be giant river and swept away everything standing on their way including massive rocks and trees which, in turn, destroyed number of houses.

Volunteers and Fire Fighters are working hard to clear the area. One of victims of the area, who is a Catholic and their house was intact, told us that they are afraid to return to their home for more than 50 years since such heavy rain might occur again and again.

Diocese of Hiroshima will continue to be with affected people and will contribute to rebuild communities.

Sep 12, 2014

Summary of activities during August. Part 5

And a little more activities of August. After the Singapore conference, I flew to Sri Lanka to attend the capacity building workshop for South Asia sub region organised by Caritas Sri Lanka and Caritas Asia from 26 to 28 August in Colombo. More stories at the site of Caritas Sri Lanka.

More than 20 participants from South Asia Member Organisation of Caritas plus 30 or more participants from Sri Lanka. Human trafficking has been serious issue to tackle for Caritas Asri Lanka for years as quite a number of domestic workers from Sri Lanka face number of difficulties in Middle East countries.

Hon. G. J. L. Neomal Perera, Deputy Minister of External Affairs, Sri Lanka, delivering his address. The Chairman of the Catholic National Commission on Migrants, Rt Rev Dr Harold Anthony Perera (center) and Fr George Sigamoney, the National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka (right) watching.

My welcome address.

Sep 9, 2014

Summary of activities during August. Part 4

The Social Mission Conference 2014 organised by Caritas Singapore on 23 August in Singapore. Main theme of this annual event was "I want a church which is poor and for the poor", the word of Pope Francis. I gave a 45 minutes of the theological reflection on the theme. For this one day event, more than 700 people came to join.

Archbishop Goh of Singapore giving his opening remarks.

More than 700 people gathered to attend the event at Catholic Junior College.

My presentation.

Associate Professor Irene Yh Ng of National University of Singapore (left) answering questions after her talk on the "Social Realities of the Poor"

Lunch was "BENTO", or lunch box. In fact, "BENTO" is a Japanese word for lunch box.

Ms. Wendy Louis, executive secretary of the Office of Laity and Family of the FABC, giving her response to my presentation. On the stage are candles used by Taize group for prayer.

Summary of activities during August. Part 3

On 17 August at the martyrs shrine of Hemi, 90 km south of Seoul, Holy Father met with Asian Bishop led by Cardinal Gracias, the president of FABC. According to the press, there were 68 bishops from 35 countries and territories. It was raining heavy during the meeting.

Then after lunch with Bishops, Holy Father celebrated open air closing Mass of Asian Youth Day. Fortunately, rain stopped just before the Mass.

Asian Bishops entering the Martyrs Shrine of Hemi.

Cardinal Grancias, the president of FABC, greeting Holy Father.

Lunch with Bishops.

 Closing Mass for the Asian Youth Day.

Youths from all over Asia.

Summary of activities during August. Part 2

Then immediately after the celebration of Assumption in the Cathedral, I took off to Seoul, Korea from Tokyo to join other Japanese Bishops and other Bishops from all over Asia. Why? Because Holy Father, Pope Francis was there visiting Korea from 14 to 18 August, mainly to be with youths from all over Asia attending Asian Youth Day. Also Pope Francis beatified 124 martyrs of Korea on 16 August in Seoul city.

Holy Father celebrated open air Mass "in front of Gwanghwamun Gate in the main square in Seoul before a crowd that numbered about 800,000, according to estimates by organizers of the event. This was the site of the torture and execution of many Korean martyrs in the 18th and 19th century." (Wall Street Journal website) It was quite Hot but cloudy summer day in Seoul!

Waiting for arrival of Holy Father on the stage beside the alter. So these are more than 800,000 people in front of us.

After the Mass, trying to find way out from the site as people were rushing to the alter to take photos.

The alter prepared for the beatification Mass. Behind the stage is the Gwanghwamun Gate. There used to be a huge building which was demolished s few years ago. That was the memory of sad past history of Japanese colonization, the building of Japanese Governor during Japanese colonial rule. The painting behind the alter is not a real painting but LCD screen.

Summary of activities during August. Part 1

Summer has almost gone. Before every memories would be swept away into oblivion, let me share some of major events of this summer with photos.

On 12 August in Takada Church, celebration of St.Clare with Sisters of the Poor Clare in Takada. You may see, after some 10 years, there is a novice in the community. Thank God.

On 15 August, the Grotto of Niigata Cathedral was blessed before Mass for its 60th anniversary of creation.

During Assumption Mass in Niigata Cathedral, a young man received sacrament of Confirmation.

Also two little boys received their First Communion during the Mass on 15 August.

Aug 3, 2014

"You yourselves give them something to eat!"

In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of Gospel), there are two key words for Pope Francis as he explores the root causes of social justice issues which are "exclusion and inequality." For example, in denouncing the modern economic system he writes as follows.
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.(53)

Then he explains these two terms as follows.
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. (53)
It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.(53)

On the 18 Sunday of ordinary time, Gospel message was from Mathew 14:13-21, the famous story of five loaves and two fish. Based on this gospel passage, Caritas Internationalis has been campaigning against world poverty which is called "One Human Family, Food for All" campaign and will continue till May 2015. Caritas Japan is also joining this campaign and using "Five loaves and two fishes" as our title of campaign in Japan.

In Evangelii Gaudium, the key image of the Church is the "Church which goes forth", so he explains his understanding as follows.
Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.
Then he explains as we go forth, what would be our priorities.
If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked,(48)
We should not just wait for someone to take action to reach out to those excluded or discriminated. It is us to take action as Jesus commanded disciples that "you yourselves give them something to eat!" Jesus did not want his own flock to be dispersed and find solution for their problems on their own. Rather he prefers to keep his flock together despite heavy burden and give sufficient consideration and care among each other. No one should be excluded. No one should be forgotten.

It is not just talking about food issue. It is also the same for making peace. As we have been witnessing brutal killings of innocent civilians especially children by military forces and armed group in Gaza for past few weeks, we should know that weapon and sword could not bring peace but death, exclusion, hatred and division. I think, as some politicians are claiming recently, we may need peculiar kind of courage to claim that military power could be deterrent power to prevent war. We have to avoid any way to divide people, any people because we all belong to one and only flock of God. This is high time that we should learn the way to give sufficient consideration and care among each other so that we may be able to build one united flock of God.  And that is not the duty of someone else, not for politicians, not for world leaders, but the duty of all of us because Jesus commanded that we should not rely on others but we ourselves give them something to eat.

Pope Francis is visiting Asia for first time soon. He will be in Korea from 14 to 18 August. Japanese bishops are also invited to join the celebration with Holy Father. I will be there on 16 to attend the beatification Mass of 124 martyrs and on 17 for closing Mass of Asia Youth Day. As he comes to us, we have to be ready to respond to his call to "go forth".

Jul 24, 2014

Caritas Internationalis statement in the UN

Below is the joint Statement of Caritas Internationalis delivered during the  21st Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation  in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem in Geneva, 23rd  July 2014;

Joint Oral Statement submitted by Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities) and co-signed by Dominicans for Justice and Peace (order of Preachers)

Mr. President,

Caritas Internationalis and Dominicans for Justice and Peace express their deep concern on the renewed tensions in the Holy Land and the grave violations reported in the Gaza Strip which are exacerbating the already complex and urgent human rights and humanitarian situation for most civilians.

The whole population in the Gaza Strip is suffering and the loss of innocent civilian lives has been deplorable. Since the beginning of the hostilities, more than 600 people have been killed, over 4000 injured, amongst them many children and women , and more than 102,000 are displaced . The number of civilians killed and injured is growing every day.

Caritas Jerusalem – the Caritas member organization in the Holy Land, which provides basic primary health care services and humanitarian assistance to the affected population through a medical center with outreach services to six local health committees mainly composed by volunteers - reported that more than 15,000 houses of civilians and 30 medical centers have been destroyed by the airstrikes and 122 schools bombarded. They further inform that unexploded ordinances and explosive remnants of war present a major hazard to the population, particularly to children, when they leave their place of shelter to search for their belongings among the rubble of their destroyed houses.
Although Caritas continues its disaster relief and ongoing humanitarian assistance and development work in the area, movements inside Gaza have become dangerous as a result of frequent bombings being imposed on the local civilian populations. An immediate ceasefire is vital to help the citizens of Gaza and the Occupied Territories to preserve their human life and dignity.

Mr. President,

During the special prayers for peace in Israel and Palestine, convened in the Vatican on June 8, 2014, Pope Francis said: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity”.

Hence, we urge both parties to take the courage to break out of the cycle of violence and to say yes to peace and no to violence and hatred to ensure a better future to their children.

Finally, in addressing this distinguished assembly we:
• Call on both parties to the conflict for an immediate ceasefire in order to enable humanitarian and medical relief supplies to reach people in need.
• To lift the blockade on Gaza lasting for the past 12 years and open the crossings from both the Egyptian and Israeli sides to ensure the freedom of movement and allow recovery efforts.
• Urge all parties to the conflict, Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups, to respect their obligations under the International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law to take all measures to protect the lives of civilians from both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, and refrain from targeting civil objects and populated areas.
• Call on the international community to use all its influence to ensure that existing peace agreements are upheld to achieve a fair solution to this long and exhausting conflict, and in particular to end occupation as it is the main cause for the conflict.
• Request appropriate Human Rights Council’s Special procedures and mechanisms to ensure an effective follow-up to the implementation of its decision.

Jul 15, 2014

Japanese Bishops' Statement of protest

As the Japanese government on 1 July made historical change of interpretation of the Constitution on the National Security issue, the standing committee of Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ)issued a statement of protest on 3 July. It has been translated into English and you may find the text of the statement in this link of the homepage of CBCJ.

According to the statement by the standing committee, the Cabinets of the past have maintained the interpretation of the Constitution that "the exercise of a right to self-defense allowed under Article 9 means a nonaggressive national security policy in all cases, while the exercise of a right to collective self-defense, which enables the use of force even when our country has not been attacked directly, is ruled out by the Constitution and thus constitutionally unacceptable."

As you may know, after the unconditional surrender by Japanese Government to the allied forces in 1945, Japan changed its Constitution in which Japan commit itself to permanent peace and especially in the Article 9 the renunciation of war is stipulated. Article 9 reads as follows.

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

But immediately after the promulgation of the constitution on 3 November, 1946, war in Korea broke out in 1950. Because of this drastic change of security environment in the area, the occupied authority led by US requested to re-establish a kind of military in Japan. That was the beginning of the Self Defense Force. Japanese military which we have now are never recognised as military as such but as Self Defense Force because of the interpretation of the Article 9 which, according to the past governments, allowed Japan to have a minimum armed force to protect its territory and people. Thus it is not "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential" but minimum necessary self defence force without the right of belligerency.

However, again the drastic change of international security environment made international society led by the US requests Japanese government to allow the SDF to be involved in peace keeping operation under UN. That is the reason why SDF has been part of several peace keeping operation under UN flag but try to keep out from actual exchange of fire. It could be unrealistic for many that a military force involved in peace keeping operation is not allowed to use its own weapon except the case of strict self defence. But that was because of the interpretation of the constitution by the past government and there was the reason to do so if we read the constitution literally.

Now according to the new interpretation by the present cabinet of the constitution, Japanese SDF may join the collective self defence even though Japan itself is not attacked. Of course, the prime minister strongly declared that he has no intention to send SDF to actual military operation abroad. But as the interpretation has been changed by just one cabinet without prior discussion in the parliament means the same tactics could be employed by future cabinet to make wider interpretation.

Bishops of Japan believe that "it is false to think that national security can be ensured by military buildup and the use of force. This is a dangerous idea that aggravates distrust among nations and shatters peace. Moreover, the backtracking on the principles of the Peace Constitution at this moment obstructs the easing of tensions in East Asia so that dialogue and trust among nations will be beyond our reach. Peace is built solely on respect for the dignity of all. Peace can be built only by sincere reflection upon history and apology for past conduct followed by forgiveness."

As 10 days of Peace which will begin on 6 August, the memorial of Hiroshima, through 15 August, the day of surrender of Japan, we have to think about how to realise peace in this world. When we see actual conflict in present days, such as the terrible conflict between Israel and Palestine, we feel as if it is impossible to achieve peace without military power. But, at the same time, when we see so many people, especially children, are killed for no reason, we can not just keep quiet. These people, each one of them are precious creature of God possessing precious gift from God that is human life. We have to continue to pray for peace and peaceful negotiation to end such brutal killings. And we also have to be sensitive to any move of governments to find excuses to go into military action to resolve international conflicts.     

Jun 28, 2014

National Meeting of diocesan directors for Sendai relief and support met in Fukushima.

National meeting of diocesan directors for relief and rehabilitation activities on the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011) met in Koriyama Catholic Church, Fukushima prefecture, from Tuesday 24 June to Thursday 26. More than 70 people attended the meeting. Participants were either diocesan directors appointed by respective bishops in charge of relief and rehabilitation activities in disaster hit area in Sendai diocese (Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima) or their collaborators. Each of 3 ecclesiastical provinces have their own base of activities within Sendai diocese under the coordination of Sendai Diocese Support Center and Bishops' Conference Support team for which I am in charge. (Photo above: waiting for an opening session in Koriyama Catholic Church in Fukushima prefecture)

The participants were divided into three groups for area visits, one for Iwate, the other for northern Fukushima and the last one for southern Fukushima. Entire group met on Wednesday evening in Koriyama. I joined the third group which went around southern Fukushima for two days.
First day of the group 3. We visited Shirakawa city, southern end of Fukushima, to meet with a local counseling group led by Catholics to visit temporary housings for evacuees from Nuclear Power Plant accidents. We also went to Iwaki to meet with evacuees of Tsunami who are preparing to move into government provided new housings from temporary residence. (Photo above: Ms.Kanazawa, a leader of the house visit and counseling group, "MIMIZUKU" of Shirakawa city sharing her experience)

On the second day, we visited town of Naraha and Tomioka quite close to the Fukushima Daiichi (NO.1) nuclear power plant. We could pass by the Fukushima Daini (NO.2) nuclear power plant and approached to the Daiichi. Then the road was blocked by police barrier in Tomioka. The local government of Naraha are preparing to return to the original community but even the officials of the town were not so sure how many people would actually come back. Then Naraha town which is closer to the Daiichi power plant has been divided for the area for which residents are able to return and the area for which residents are unable to return. Inside the town, we could see one side of the road is restricted and the other not. Community are divided. People are divided. (Photo above: Officers of the Naraha town office showing the participants of the group three how to measure radiation)

On Thursday morning, we met in Koriyama Catholic Church to listen to stories of 8 people working in Fukushima prefecture for evacuees. There were so many different stories. Even though the rehabilitation program moves very slow, those in Iwate and Miyagi have, at least, some hope for future. But those in Fukushima, especially those near to the nuclear power plant have difficulty to find hope for future. Already some decided not to return. What would be happen to these local communities which are already losing their residents because of aging society. (Photo above: JR Tomioka Station after 3 years of Tsunami. Becasue of radiation, residents are not allowed to return and, thus, the station and town hit by tsunami remains the same)

The meeting ended with Mass by Bishop Hiraga of Sendai at Koriyama catholic church on Thursday afternoon. Since then I have moved to Akita to stay with members of the Seitai Hoshikai till Sunday.(Photo above: Inside the town of Tomioka. In front, there are barrier to prevent anyone to enter. Right hand side is the area to which residents are not allowed to return. Left hand side, residents are expected to return in near future.)

Through the meeting in Koriyama we leaned a lot about complex situation in Fukushima. Japanese Bishops are against nuclear power plants in Japan. At the same time, Bishops are calling to change present life style in Japan which consumes a lot of energy. Of course, Bishops do know that we can not force Catholics to have same opinion over this issue with us. We know there are different opinion within Church itself. We know there are voices against return to Fukishima because of radiation. We also know there are voices assuring safety of Fukushima. But what we can say is that ordinary people's ordinary life was destroyed in many ways and into many directions because there had been nuclear power plants in Fukushima. As we see the reality of people in Fukushima, we are not able to keep our mouth shut. So much issues in different levels have been mixed together to be the cause of difficulties for people's everyday life and that makes objective discussion almost impossible.

In any case, the point is quite clear. Come and see the reality of people. People are deprived of their ordinary life. It is quite a challenge for most of them to claim them back. Majority in the society do not care anymore of the difficulties which people in Fukushima face everyday in order to maintain their daily life. Even though they are not responsible to what has been happened in Fukushima, people have to take responsibility to make choices of their life. This is not the issue contained within the boundary of Fukushima prefecture. It is the issue for entire Japan and we should not forget daily sufferings of people in Fukushima. Communities are divided. families are divided. Firends are separated. All for what reason? (Radiation meter in front of Futaba town temporal police station.)