Invitation Letter to Pope Francis
from the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan
October 4, 2013
Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
The hearts of all the faithful in the Church of Japan are deeply appreciative that, beginning with your election as the successor of Peter in March,Your Holiness has guided our worldwide Church with a breath of new life.
We, the Church of Japan, invite you Holy Father, as the Vicar of Christ, as the Head of the Bishops, as the Shepherd of the Universal Church who leads the People of God, to visit Japan so that the people may hear directly from you the Gospel message of God’s love and life and receive your blessing. By this letter, I as the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, with the support of the entire Bishops’ Conference, humbly and respectfully request that Your Holiness come to visit Japan.
We, the Church of Japan, strongly desire to dialogue and live, together with you Holy Father, the heartfelt mission that you have so strongly emphasized, namely, that we be a Church that lives together with the poor. In addition, through your visit Holy Father, the Church of Japan fervently hopes to receive from God our Father, the strength and grace needed to undertake the New Evangelization. Therefore, we will surely welcome a visit by you Holy Father with great joy.
Holy Father, we know that you are very busy with your holy ministry, but by all means, we ask that you kindly consider this sincere request from the Church of Japan.
With thanks for your understanding and guidance and prayerful best wishes, I am
Yours devotedly in Our Lord,
Peter Takeo Okada
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo
On the occasion of inviting the Holy Father to visit Japan, I would like to offer a brief explanation of the situation in the Church of Japan at the present time.
In response to the call of Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei” we of the Church of Japan, along with all the other Catholic churches throughout the world, began to commemorate the “Year of Faith”. Presently in Japanese society, many people are living with much suffering and many difficulties because we have an aging society with few new births, an economic downturn, problems with interpersonal relationships and within families, bullying in the schools, suicides, the nuclear power plant problem, and a variety of other difficulties as well. During this year of faith, we are humbly turning our ears to the silent screams of people seeking to find salvation and to know the meaning of life. By endeavoring to bear witness to the faith through our own words and actions, we hope to renew our decision “to stand with the Lord so as to live with him,” (Porta Fidei No.10).
- Accompanying Presence during the Reconstruction of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami
Two and a half years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant accident. Reconstruction in the affected areas has still not made much progress. Even now many of the victims and evacuees have many anxieties concerning their future and have been forced to live in very inconvenient situations.
Immediately after the earthquake we received aid and warm words of sympathy and encouragement from Pope Benedict XVI. In addition, we are grateful because we received much encouragement and many donations from churches all over the world.
The Church of Japan, composed of three provinces under the name, “All Japan”, with direction from Caritas Japan, is doing reconstruction assistance in the affected areas. From people in the affected areas words like: “the importance of your presence,” “the joy of living together,” “having hope for the future” has become the occasion for Japanese Catholics to reconsider in a big way the connection between faith and our way of living. The Church of Japan feels strongly that, through our experiences of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, God is giving us a new light in which to view our faith.
- 150 Years Since the Reopening of Evangelization and the Discovery of the Hidden Christians
The Church of Japan, in the opening year of the Year of Faith in 2012, was also commemorating 150 years since the reopening of Japan for evangelization. The early church period in Japan, which began with the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549 and the development of the Church, experienced severe persecution that produced the twenty-six saints of Nagasaki and scores of other martyrs. In the early part of the seventeenth century, under the strict policies of the Edo Shogunate, Christianity became a prohibited religion, and Japan became a closed country. About 250 years later, the Paris Foreign Missionary Society was sent to Japan by Pope Pius IX who had a very keen interest in missions. He sent them to Yokohama where they consecrated the Sacred Heart Church, which became the symbol for reopening missionary activity in Japan. In addition, on June 8th of that same year, the same Pope canonized the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, (then again in 1867, 205 more martyrs were beatified). We feel deeply grateful and assured of our deep bonds with the universal church, because 150 years ago, in order to reopen evangelization in Japan, the Roman Pope and the churches of Europe took a small island nation at the far corner of the world to heart through prayer and renewed missionary activity.
In addition, in 2015, we will be celebrating 150 years since the discovery of the Hidden Christians in Nagasaki. On March 17, 1865, the year after the church was completed by the Paris Foreign Missionary Society in Oura; a group of the faithful who had been hiding in the village of Urakami visited and proclaimed their Catholic faith to the missionaries. The actual existence of these “Hidden Christians”, all of them members of the laity, who had from generation to generation for 250 years, under strict prohibition, bravely protected and proclaimed their faith, was now clearly established as a historical fact. We, the Church of Japan, when looking back on this amazing history of salvation prepared for Japan by God, must never forget that the blood of this same faith is still pulsing and flowing through us who are alive today. What Blessed Pope John Paul II, at the time of his visit to Japan in 1981, stated is very true: “The Church of Japan has its foundation in the blood of the martyrs.” We received additional grace in 1987, when this same Pope canonized St. Thomas Nishi and 15 other martyrs and again in 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI beatified Peter Kibe and 187 other martyrs.
Furthermore, in 2015 it will be the 400 anniversary of the martyrdom in Manila of Justus Takayama Ukon (1552~1615), who was a Christian Daimyo from the Sengoku Period (civil war era) in Japan and for whom there is currently a movement for beatification. Since Ukon was God’s vessel sent to the Church of Japan, his beatification would throw a great reflective light upon our modern way of living and help highlight the future path that our present day church must travel. The Church of Japan is praying that Ukon may be beatified as soon as possible.
- Steps Towards Peace by Atomic Bombed Japan
Since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, we will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing in 2015. The Church of Japan has the on-going mission of conveying to the world the horrors of the atomic bomb, the stupidity of war and appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons. When Blessed Pope John Paul II came to Japan in 1981, he made an appeal for peace in Hiroshima which began with the famous words, “War is the work of man.” This visit was a great support and offered directional hints for the peace movement in Japan.
Moreover, the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which caused the nuclear accident in Fukushima, contaminated the sea and land with radioactivity causing 90,000 residents to lose their livelihoods and become evacuees, and forced people to live a life in fearful anxiety. Here once again the Church of Japan, while continuing to learn about the non-evangelical, inhumane and unethical use of nuclear power by mankind, is painfully aware that we must take responsible action in regard to the worldwide environmental pollution that was caused by the nuclear accident. In 2011, the Bishops’ Conference of Japan appealed for the immediate closure and abolition of all nuclear power plants.
In Japan there is a culture, wisdom and tradition that espouse a symbiotic relationship with nature, which is an inherent part of the spirit of Shinto, Buddhism and many other religions. For us as Christians, more than anything else, there is the need to live in a way guided by God, which means, “simplicity of life, a spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice,” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi No. 76). All of which serves to give a genuine witness to the Gospel. Now is the time when the Church of Japan should re-opt for a simple and frugal life, based on the spirit of the Gospels, which would be very appealing to the people of Japan.
I have written the above concerning the main issues of the Church of Japan in regard to evangelization, with the idea of a possible visit by the Holy Father to Japan.
If a visit to Japan by the Holy Father should become a reality, it could include a visit to Sendai Diocese, site of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which would be a great encouragement and comfort for the people there. In addition the Holy Father could see with his own eyes the effects of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and make an appeal for peace in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Church of Japan takes very seriously its mission to live with the poor, which has been emphasized by the Holy Father. As apostles of peace, it is our heartfelt desire to share in and to live out this mission together with the Holy Father.