May 31, 2014

Annual pilgrimage to AKITA

After my return from Amman, Jordan for Caritas Internationalis Representative Council which took us even to Jerusalem for a brief pilgrimage, I joined a group of 14 from Niigata for yet another pilgrimage to AKITA.

Though AKITA is in my diocese, Niigata, it takes at least 5 hours drive or 3 and half hours train ride to reach there from Niigata city (Photo above: a new express train between Niigata and AKita). This pilgrimage is an annual event for a Rosary group called GETUYO-KAI in Niigata which literally means "Monday Group" as they meet once a month on Mondays in Cathedral. I usually celebrate Mass for them and join their Rosary recitation.

The group was founded by late Bishop Shojiro ITO, the first Bishop of Niigata with faithfuls who witnessed miraculous incidents with a wooden statue of Holy Mother shed tears for 101 times 30 years ago in AKITA.  Bishop ITO himself also witnessed the incidents and in 1984 in his Easter Pastoral Letter, he recognised the incidents as miraculous and also the message given to a Sister authentic, and gave permission to organize pilgrimage to the site. The site is now called Marian Shrine of Akita in Seitai Hoshi kai (Handmaids of Holy Eucharist). Seitai Hoshi Kai is a secular institute of consecrated life established by Bishop Ito prior to the miraculous incident.  Official stance of Niigata Diocese to the Marian Shrine in Akita has never changed since Bishop Ito's time and everyone is free and welcome to organize pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine in Seitai Hoshi Kai in Akita.

Last year in October, Niigata Diocese was invited by Rome Diocese to join the Marian Day for the Year of Faith and organised a vigil prayer service in Akita with other Marian Shrines in the world. It was televised live through Italian TV station.

So after I arrived at Narita Airport on 21 May morning, I proceeded to Sendai to join the support meeting for rehabilitation program by Sendai diocese for 2011 disaster victims. Unfortunately I just missed the meeting. I was late. Then I proceeded to Akita to wait for a group from Niigata (Photo above: Pilgrimage to Bethlehem and Jerusalem).

22 May was rainy day but the group from Niigata arrived in good spirit. The group was joined by another Rosary group from Niigata and we had a joint Mass in the afternoon.

Following morning was a fine day and we could manage to organise the Stations of the Cross in a beautiful garden of the convent of Seitai Hoshi Kai.

The Marian Shrine itself is very important for Niigata Diocese as spiritual foundation but also the convent of Seitai Hoshi Kai is and has been providing wonderful environment of prayer and meditation for us. Of course, members of the institute are praying for the diocese every day. Though diocese of Niigata is a small diocese with only 7,000 Catholics, we have to maximise our efforts for evangelisation in this area with more than 4.5 million people. For this we need spiritual support. Seitai Hoshi Kai provides good facilities for our spiritual renewal and we should utilise them. Also we have another good facility in south. Myoko Church facilities provides us also a good environment to pray and meditate. Both places are precious gifts for our spiritual enrichment in the diocese. Also we should not forget Sisters in the diocese, especially the Poor Clares in Takada and Seitai Hoshi Kai who have been supporting our diocesan activities through their continuous prayers.

Oh, I happen to visit both places, Seitai Hoshi Kai and Myoko in coming Sundays. 1st June, there will be Nagaoka District Laity Assembly in Myoko and 8 June is the Akita District Laity Assembly in Seitai Hoshi Kai.

May 27, 2014

Photos of the construction works in Niigata from 2013 to 2014

Below is a photo clip of the construction works for the new chancery office and bishop's house in Niigata starting from demolishing old bishop's house and former nursery building.

Captions are in Japanese only. Sorry. We had to demolish a part of old bishop's house at the beginning of the works in order to allow heavy machines to reach the former nursery building for works of demolishing it. Behind the old bishop's house is a former minor seminary which has been refurbished this time in order to use as a residence for retired priests and a guest house. Then there used to be a building for nursery run by Sisters which had been closed in the end of March, 2011.

Blessing of new chancery office and bishop's house in Niigata

A year ago on 10 May, 2013, a groundbreaking ceremony to start construction project of a new building for chancery office and bishop's residence of Niigata diocese was held under beautiful blue sky. After a year long construction work, which was disrupted for a month or so by snow in winter, the new building and surrounding facilities became reality. On 10 May, 2014, again under beautiful blue sky and warm weather, the thanksgiving Mass and blessing of the new house was held in Niigata.

In fact the work itself started in March, 2013 with demolishing of the former nursery building which had been closed in March, 2011.  Demolishing a building is quite costly in Japan because of the charge for waste disposal.

In 2009 New Year's Pastoral Letter, in view of the centenary celebration of the diocese in 2012, I put three items as projects I would like to accomplish to commemorate the centenary.  In connection to the celebration, a “Centennial Committee” had been created, and a discussion on the celebration started. Following three are what I wanted to accomplish.

First, the erection of Shinjo Church in Yamagata Prefecture for migrant Catholics in the area. Majority of them are from Philippines. A suitable land and buildings which could be used as a church had been found. With generous support from both within the diocese and other supporters in all over Japan, we could manage to purchase the land and building and were able to consecrate the new Church in October, 2010.
Second, the use of the land at the back of Niigata Cathedral and at the Bishop’s Residence. For this, a committee was also set up to find some strategies in order to utilize effectively the said land. And the result was the construction of the new building and demolishing of the former nursery and old bishop's house.
Third, the Niigata - Khabarovsk Catholic Friendship. In 2008 June, I visited Bishop Cyril Klimowicz in the Irkutsk Diocese, and I discussed and explained my intention to establish a spiritual partnership to bishop. Then on October 2008, with Fr. Machida leading a group of 5 persons visited Khabarovsk, and deepened the friendly relationship. Several members visited Khabarovsk since then and we also received our friends in Niigata several times. Khabarovsk community was represented during the centenary of Niigata diocese and one of our two crucifixes which went around the entire parish communities in the diocese prior to the centenary celebration also reached Khabarovsk.

What I can say is all these are accomplished more rapidly than I originally expected thanks to generosity of our brothers and sisters in this diocese and in other dioceses. Especially for establishing the Shinjo Church for our migrant brothers and sisters and also for building the new chancery and bishop's house, I was overwhelmed by great volume of donation from all over Japan. Thank you for your generous contributions. As for the new Chancery office and bishop's house, we received  big sum of donations from Tokyo and Yokohama dioceses. Thank you so much. We easily forget that our lives are always supported by generosity and concern by others. We easily think that we are able to manage everything by ourselves. But that is not so. Beginning from God who provided us with this precious life to every people we relate in our life, we have to be grateful to what we receive.

The cost of entire project of the Chancery office and bishop's house including demolishing the former nursery and old bishop's house and also including renovation of the old minor seminary building as residence for retired priests is around Euro 1.4 million. 
All Bishops of Tokyo province, Archbishop Okada, Bishop Koda, Bishop Umemura, Bishop Hiraga and Bishop Katsuya joined the belsessing of the new house. Around 300 people came to join the celebration. There was a banquet in the new house after the Mass and blessing.

May 1, 2014

Eighth Diocesan Pastoral Council Assembly @ Niigata

Eighth general assembly of Niigata Diocesan Pastoral Council was held on 29 April from 10 am to 3 pm in a new diocesan chancery office's meeting room. All of 5 districts (deanery) in the diocese, namely Akita, Yamagata, Shibata, Niigata and Nagaoka were represented by two lay councilors and a priest. Also the women religious and the diocesan women association were represented. All together there were 22 people attending this annual assembly.

The idea of Pastoral council where representatives of laity, priests and religious come together to share ideas and advice Bishop on pastoral activities and evangelisation activities of the diocese are still new in Niigata diocese. This pastoral council was established after I became Bishop of this diocese in 2004. As the idea of this type of method to share ideas are still new to many in the diocese, what we have been doing so far have been doing continuous evaluation of pastoral priorities of the diocese.

In fact, the pastoral priorities of this diocese have been established based on the past discussions of this council. Present priorities which are the second set of priorities since I took office have been worked out for the centenary celebration of the diocese in October 2012. These priorities are as follows.

1: To build "our Church", one which is filled by joy and compassion through overcoming differences created by age, nationality and cultural diversity.
 2: Realizing the responsibilities of the Catholic Church in society through exchanges of information within the diocese, districts and parishes.
 3: To continue to nurture and deepen our faith, so that we may be witnesses of the Gospel both through our words and deeds in the midst of contemporary society .

Let me share some points on these priorities from discussions during the Council meeting.

We put "our Church" since there are quite significant number of migrant Catholics in our parish communities who had been treated like "guest" and not a member of "family" for many years. Many of them came to Japan from Philippines to marry with Japanese spouse, mainly local farmers and settled down as wives and mothers of many kids.  So it is the must for us to make them feel at home and also continue to provide catechetical formation for these kids.. However, there are number of reports from districts that they found it quite challenging to overcome cultural differences and to have common understanding how to maintain their parish communities together especially financially. Parish in Japan has its own system of registration and monthly due payment based on this registration which has to be well explained.

Also in order to realize responsibilities of the Catholic Church in society, our parish communities should cooperate each other and share information or ideas since our parish communities are small and scattered about in vast area.

Then there are difficulties to realize continuous faith formation for members and keep contact with those who left communities.  Unfortunately, with very small number of priests and almost non-existence of religious sisters in the diocese, it is quite challenging to organize substantial course or some sort of it. This is the most challenging issue. Whenever I read monthly news letter from Tokyo Archdiocese, I really envy them. They have more than one page of the news letter with information of variety of formation courses and sessions and more and more offered to faithful in Tokyo area. That is not possible in this rural diocese with people scattered about in 500 km coastal line.

During the Council meeting this time, we also had evaluation of our activities during the Year of Faith and review of Parish Council system in various districts.

P.S. I also have to mention that there are number of non-Japanese Catholics in this diocese who have been making significant contributions in social activities and in the field of education. I also have to mention that I have been emphasizing that the migrant Catholics are missionaries sent by God to Japan especially to the area where traditional parish system are non-existent. In fact, they are making significant contribution to evangelisation.