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.