- LITURGICAL REFORM
- PROGRESS IN ECUMENISM
- INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
- IDENTITY AS THE LOCAL CHURCH
- SOCIAL ACTION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
- POLITICS AND RELIGION
- "BASIC ORIENTATIONS AND PRIORITIES
- NICE I
- NICE II
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) marked the beginning
of a thoroughgoing renewal in the Catholic Church. It effected
dramatic changes in the counter-Reformation attitude that
had characterized the Church ever since the Council of Trent.
This renewal worked its way into almost every aspect of Catholic
life from the inward, theological understanding of the Church,
indeed of faith itself, to its outward expression in administrative
re-structuring, in liturgy, in legislation, as well as in
general attitudes and behavior toward the present-day world
and toward other religions.
The implementation of this renewal has been an urgent task
of the Catholic Church in Japan, too, from the late 1960s
to the present. Beginning with the translation and publication
of Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents, it went on to include
reform of the liturgy, updating and realigning of administrative
structures, re-education of laity, clergy, and religious,
promotion of unity among Christians, cooperation with other
religions, social involvement, and the furthering of justice
and peace. Today, too, the challenge continues to be how to
incarnate the spirit of the Council in the life of contemporary
1. LITURGICAL REFORM
The first noticeable change brought about as a result of
Vatican II was liturgical reform. To manifest its great esteem
for the characteristic individuality of each region, culture,
and language of the world, the Council opted for use of the
vernacular in the liturgy to replace Latin, which had for
centuries been the sole liturgical language of the Roman Rite.
Accordingly, the Church in Japan, immediately after the Council,
began to use Japanese in the liturgy and make liturgical accommodations
to Japanese culture.
The "Rite of Marriage" (1st printing 1971; revised
edition in preparation), the "Order of Christian Funerals"
(1st printing 1971; revised edition 1993), the "Liturgy
of the Hours" (1973), the "Rite of Confirmation"
(1974), the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults"
(1976), the "Missal" (provisional edition 1978),
and other liturgical books were published and the major liturgical
services came to be performed in Japanese. Liturgical music
was composed to fit the Japanese liturgical texts and replace
Gregorian chant. The task that still remains, however, goes
far beyond Japanese translations or cultural accommodations.
It is the authentic inculturation of Christianity into Japan.
2. PROGRESS IN ECUMENISM
Vatican II brought about historic changes in ecumenism,
the movement towards unity in Christian faith. The Catholic
Church in Japan, too, adopted a more constructive approach.
The establishment of national bishops' conferences in each
country was itself an outcome of the Council, and when the
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan was inaugurated in 1966,
it included a Committee for Ecumenism. This committee, along
with the National Christian Council (NCC), has sponsored prayer
assemblies for Christian unity every January since 1967.
1971 saw the inauguration of SODEPAX JAPAN, the Japanese counterpart
of the Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX),
which had been established in 1965 by the World Council of
Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Commission "Justice
High-level inter-denominational commissions were set up with
the Anglican Church in April 1972 and with the Lutheran Church
in February 1985. These led to a deepening of mutual theological
understanding and resulted in acknowledgment of the authenticity
of baptisms administered in their respective churches (with
the Anglicans in May 1977 and with the Lutherans in December
Preparations for translating and publishing an interconfessional
for joint use by Protestants and Catholics began in 1969,
and the first book of the new Common Bible, the Gospel of
Luke, appeared in September 1975. It was followed by the complete
New Testament in September 1978. These were thoroughly revised,
the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament were added,
and "The Bible: A New Interconfessional Translation"
was issued by the Japan Bible Society in September 1987. The
Catholic Bishops' Conference immediately approved the use
of this Bible in public worship, and in the following year
also sanctioned the form Iesu for the Lord's Name (the form
which has long been used among Protestants as well as the
general public), allowing it to replace Iezusu (used only
among Catholics) in liturgical texts and in official documents
issued by the bishops or under their auspices. With this long-standing
mark of disunity removed, unity "in the Name of the Lord"
came one step closer.
In 1984, the Committee for Ecumenism published its "Guidelines
for Ecumenism in Japan." Throughout the 1980s, the Catholic
Council for Justice and Peace served as the main vehicle for
increased cooperation with the National Christian Council.
"Prayer Assemblies for Social Justice and the Banning
of Nuclear Weapons" were held, and joint action was taken
with regard to social and political issues, such as the Yasukuni
Shrine, the imperial enthronement ceremonies, release of South
Korean political prisoners, and revision of the Alien Registration
3. INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
The 1970s witnessed an upsurge in dialogue with non-Christian
religions as well. East-West tensions were still high and
religious people became increasingly aware that they shared
a common responsibility toward peace. The Catholic Church
of Japan took part in the World Conference on Religion and
Peace (1970) as well as in the Asian branch of this Conference
(1976). When the first meeting of the Japan Youth Religionists
was held in 1976, Cardinal S. Pignedoli, president of the
Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians (now called the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue), came to Japan to participate.
Interest in Zen spread among Catholics and many began to
use methods of Zen meditation in their own prayer life. Dialogue
with Buddhists, especially Zen Buddhists, developed in many
places and led to Oriental-Occidental spiritual exchanges.
The first of these took place in September 1979, when 51 Buddhist
monks experienced a month of monastic life in contemplative
Catholic monasteries in Germany, France, Belgium, and the
Netherlands. For the second exchange, in October 1983, 17
contemplative European monks, mainly Benedictines and Trappists,
came to Japan to spend a month in Zen monasteries. Thus far
there have been four such spiritual exchanges, with the participants
traveling to each other's countries to get first-hand experience
of religious life there.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II appealed to religious leaders
all over the world to gather for a Prayer Assembly for World
Peace, which was held in Assisi in October and was attended
by religious leaders from Japan.
While it can thus be said that dialogue is taking place
with other religions, it is generally with the traditional
religions. No dialogue is taking place with religious groups
founded immediately after the Second World War or in more
recent years, or with groups that have little to do with Christianity,
among which must be included the Holy Spirit Association for
the Unification of World Christianity (popularly known as
the "Unification Church," or the Basic Principles
Some tasks still remain with regard to Japanese religions.
One is the need for academic as well as experiential dialogue
with Shinto, which undeniably underlies many Japanese religions
and is necessary for understanding them. As regards Buddhism,
though spiritual exchanges are taking place with Zen Buddhism,
little dialogue is being pursued with other forms of Buddhism.
Greater effort is needed toward more constructive exchange
with these, too. As for the post-war or newer religious groups,
an attempt should first of all be made to survey and study
the reasons why such religions have become popular in Japan.
It should be noted that cooperation and solidarity with
other religions at the level of social action is gradually
increasing. This will be treated later.
4. IDENTITY AS THE LOCAL CHURCH
Vatican II refers to the "local or particular"
Church (Decree on Ecumenism, no.14), and says: "...it
has come about that various churches established in diverse
places by the Apostles and their successors have in the course
of time coalesced into several groups, organically united,
which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine
constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline,
their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and
spiritual heritage" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,
no.23). Taken in context, this passage refers to the various
churches that have existed in the East since apostolic times.
In this same spirit, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences
(FABC), in a Declaration issued at its first plenary session
in 1974, said: "The local church is a church incarnate
in a people, a church indigeous and inculturated. And this
means concretely a church in continuous, humble and loving
dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions
in brief, with all life-realities of the people in whose midst
it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it
gladly makes its own." (no.12) The reference here is
to the churches that have been born in various countries as
a result of missionary work since the 16th century and points
not to administrative districts but to various clearly delineated
cultural spheres. That is to say, it envisions an "Indian
Church," a "Philippine Church," or a "Japanese
Church." Such national or regional groupings tend to
be co-extensive with the bishops' conferences that the Second
Vatican Council decreed should be established as the framework
within which the bishops should carry out their mutually shared
pastoral responsibility to make the services of the Church
available to all.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has been a member
of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences ever since
1971, when preparations were first made to establish it, and,
thanks to exchanges with bishops of other Asian countries,
the bishops of Japan came to a deeper awareness that the Church
of Japan is a local church, an Asian Church.
The Japanese Church as a whole became more conscious of
its own local identity in 1981. That was the year in which
Pope John Paul II came to Japan, not as head of the Vatican
State, but for the sole purpose of visiting the Church here.
Though the Pope actually visited only the three dioceses of
Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, Catholics of other dioceses
as well felt that the Pope had come to visit them in their
own church, the Church of Japan.
In September 1986, at the fourth plenary session of the
FABC held in Tokyo, Archbishop S. Shirayanagi, president of
the Bishops' Conference of Japan, while addressing the bishops
who were representing the various FABC countries and the laypeople
who were also in attendance, made a formal apology for the
wartime responsibility that he said must be borne by Japan
and the Catholic Church of Japan for the tragedies and atrocities
of the Second World War.
Ever since the inauguration of the FABC, exchanges among
the various local churches of Asia have increased, but it
cannot be said that the Japanese Church, either publicly or
privately, has managed to measure up yet to the expectations
of the churches in other Asian countries.
5. SOCIAL ACTION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The 1960s and 1970s saw conflict over the Japan-U.S. Security
Treaty and an increasing number of movements calling for reform
of social structures. Within the Japanese Catholic Church,
too, there was a gradual heightening of awareness regarding
issues of human rights and social justice. In 1967, Pope Paul
VI had urged that Catholic Committees for Justice and Peace
be established in each nation. The Bishops' Conference of
Japan set up the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace,
as a conference of the various Catholic groups that had been
active in such matters, and its first national assembly was
held in November 1975.
With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, refugees, called
"Boat People," began to seek asylum in other countries.
The first refugees landed in Japan that year and, in response
to a U.N. request, the Catholic Church, through its relief
agency, Caritas Japan, sponsored their temporary stay. Five
religious residences and other facilities were made available
to them. Though at first the Japanese government refused to
grant these refugees permanent residence, it was later granted
under the pressure of world opinion. In 1982, the Bishops'
Conference set up the Special National Committee for the Settlement
of Refugees (renamed, in 1985, the Committee for the Settlement
of Refugees), and each diocese began to provide help for the
refugees within its territory.
A major social problem in Japan during the 1980s was the
influx of migrant workers from neighboring countries. Increasing
numbers of Asian women, especially Filipinos, came to Japan,
most notably in 1983 and 1984, to work mainly as nightlife
hostesses and entertainers. These women have often been forced
into prostitution, exploited, had their freedom restricted,
or been subjected to other forms of degradation. Help was
provided for them by churches and religious houses until,
at the request of the Philippine Bishops' Conference in April
1983, a Committee to Help Asian Women Residing in Japan was
organized with the backing of the Catholic Committee for International
Cooperation. It brought together people who had been active
in this regard till then. (In 1984, the organization was renamed
the Committee for Solidarity with Asian Women Residing in
Around 1987 the number of foreign male workers also began
to increase, not only from Asian countries but from Latin
American countries as well. With problems of international
marriages increasing among these men and, of course, among
the women already mentioned, there was a quickly growing variety
of people and problems calling for attention. Accordingly,
the previously mentioned Committee was renamed the Committee
for Solidarity with Foreigners in Japan. It stationed representatives
in every diocese and proceeded to deal with foreign laborers'
problems. In 1992 the Episcopal Commission for Social Activities
drew up an assessment of the situation and outlined the challenge
for the Church in Japan in a message entitled "Seeking
the Kingdom of God which Transcends Differences in Nationality."
Pope John Paul II's visit in 1981 had lasting effects on
the Church of Japan in the 1980s, among which should be noted
a strengthened sense of responsibility for peace, renewed
enthusiasm for evangelization, and a lively consciousness
of self-identity as the Church of Japan. Moreover, the "Peace
Appeal" made by Pope John Paul in Hiroshima reached out
beyond the Church to have a widespread impact on Japanese
The Episcopal Commission for Social Activities, following
up on the theme of this Appeal, issued a document called "Peace
and the Catholic Church of Japan Today A Response to the Pope's
Peace Appeal." (May 1981) It called on the whole Church
to take effective action for peace and stressed the importance
of re-education for peace. In the following year, 1982, the
Commission collected signatures demanding the abolition of
nuclear weapons and organized a Japan Catholic Peace Pilgrimage
Mission to present these signatures to the Second U.N. Special
Session on Disarmament. It also introduced an annual "Ten
Days for Peace," to be observed every August, and appealed
for grass-roots campaigns for peace. In 1983 a pastoral letter,
"The Desire for Peace," was published, which pointed
out not only the menace of nuclear war but the threat to world
peace posed by the great gap between the prosperous North
and the developing South. On the occasion of the Third U.N.
Special Session on Disarmament (May 1988), the signatures
of 206 Asian bishops were obtained and presented, demanding
disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Within this great diversity of problems, the Church's central
concern has been the dignity and mission of human beings created
by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. In 1983, in order to
obtain a more comprehensive grasp of these many problems,
the Bishops' Conference organized a Catholic Committee for
Human Rights and Welfare and entrusted it with the care of
such groups as the Liaison Association for the Disabled, the
National Liaison Association of Catholic Volunteers, the Braille
Library, the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Strategy Committee,
and the Federation of Prison Chaplains. In June 1984, a Pastoral
Instruction, "Life, a Gift from God the Catholic Understanding
of the Life and Dignity of the Unborn," was issued, stressing
the sinfulness of artificial abortion and the need to protect
the human rights of unborn children.
The defense of the human rights of the disabled and their
welfare are also pressing concerns. In December 1980, the
Bishops' Conference published a message "On the Occasion
of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981)"
and, with the aim of achieving full social participation and
equality for the disabled, made a special appeal for the realization
of this goal within the Church. During the 1980s, the Conference
aimed at having all its publications available in Braille
at the same time and for the same price as the regular printed
edition. Thus far, availability at the same price has been
maintained. Ever since January 1985, all of the Conference's
publications have carried a notice granting "permission
for sound recordings, enlarged photocopies, and Braille transcriptions
for the benefit of people with impaired vision." In April
1990, "The Liturgy of the Mass Celebrated with Sign Language"
was published, facilitating the liturgical participation of
people with impaired hearing. In May 1991, "Church Building
Design Taking into Account the Needs of Handicapped People"
Among major issues of human rights in Japanese society is
the discrimination suffered by Buraku minorities and by Korean
residents in Japan."
"The so-called Dowa problem is a most serious and important
social problem deriving from the fact that a segment of the
Japanese people, owing to discrimination based on a class
system formed in the process of the historical development
of Japanese society, is placed in such an inferior position
economically, socially and culturally that their fundamental
human rights are grossly violated even in present-day society
and that, in particular, their civil rights and liberties,
which are ensured to all people as a principle of modern society,
are not fully guaranteed in reality." (From the 1965
Report on the Dowa Policy Council published in "The Reality
of Buraku Discrimination in Japan" by Buraku Kaiho Kenkyusho
Discrimination against Buraku minorities was taken up as
a project for research and re-education especially by the
Kyoto Diocesan Council for Justice and Peace, and in 1978
it was made the theme of the national assembly of the Japan
Catholic Council for Justice and Peace. Interventions by Japanese
participants in the third World Conference on Religion and
Peace in 1979 spurred awareness of discriminatory attitudes
within the Japanese religious world. The Joint Conference
of Religious Bodies to Deal with the "Buraku" Problem
(in the sense proposed by government policy administration)
was formed in June 1981, and the Federation of Christian Denominations
Concerned with the Problem of Buraku Discrimination in October
1983, both with Catholic participation.
Beginning about this time, criticism within the Church of
the use of the discriminatory expression "tokushu buraku"
(the term literally means "special communities"
but has acquired the discrominatory meaning of "segregated
outcastes") brought to light discriminatory tendencies
within the Church itself, and led to formation in January
1984 of the Committee for the Buraku Issues. Despite its approval
as a national Catholic committee, it continued to function
as an organ within the Council for Justice and Peace. It was
not until the early 1990s that it acquired its own executive
office and became independent of the Council. However, a 1990
survey of attitudes among a number of Osaka parishes revealed
that Catholics in general were not yet sufficiently aware
of the problem nor were they ready to deal with it. The Episcopal
Commission for Social Activities thus issued a message in
1992, entitled "Towards Overcoming Buraku Discrimination,"
which laid out the basic attitude of the Catholic Church regarding
the Buraku problem and called for review and reform of Catholic
structures, organizations, customs, liturgy, rites, and instruction,
so as to rid these of anything discriminatory.
The issue of human rights of Koreans resident in Japan,
with special focus on the Alien Registration Law, became a
growing social problem from around 1982. In February 1984,
the Catholic Bishops' Conference, through its Commission for
Social Activities, presented a proposal to the Prime Minister,
the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Home Affairs
calling for repeal of the fingerprinting requirement of the
Alien Registration Law. Appeals for support were made inside
and outside the Church, but Catholics on the whole still lacked
awareness and understanding of the issue. When, however, in
October 1984, one foreign missionary refused to be fingerprinted
and other foreign missionaries soon followed suit, greater
awareness finally dawned within the Church and a campaign
to abolish fingerprinting began. The Commission for Social
Activities sent repeated requests and inquiries to government
offices urging amendment of the Alien Registration Law and
protection of the rights of individuals who refused to be
fingerprinted. Despite several partial changes in the Law
since 1987, a persistent campaign is still being waged for
the abolition of other requirements of the Law, such as the
obligation to carry one's Alien Registration Certificate at
all times, the system for renewing this certificate and for
re-copying fingerprints, and the unduly severe penalties.
6. POLITICS AND RELIGION
The biggest problem facing the Catholic Church in Japan
in political affairs has been the separation of state and
religion. Along with the modernization of Japan that began
with the Meiji Reform went a divinization of the emperor to
the extent that all decisions of national policy were carried
out in his "sacred" name. This process continued
and gathered momentum until its tragic culmination in the
Second World War. The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo harks back
to this period and aims at preserving the memory of over two
and a half million Japanese who gave their lives "for
emperor and country" from the Meiji Reform till the end
of the War. Before the War it was under special national protection
and funding; subsequently, it has been simply a religious
Since 1969, however, repeated efforts to enact legislation
that would allow the use of national funds for Yasukuni Shrine
has aroused a deepening sense of crisis among Catholics. In
1973, the Archbishop of Tokyo, S. Shirayanagi, sent a message
to the Prime Minister, in which he objected to a bill allocating
state funds for ceremonies held at Yasukuni Shrine, and in
1975 he joined representatives of 13 other Christian denominations
in signing a declaration of protest. In October 1980, the
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan sent a protest to the
Prime Minister regarding such nationalization of Yasukuni
The nationalization bill did not pass the Diet on that occasion,
but with cabinet ministers making it their practice to visit
Yasukuni Shrine in their public capacity as government ministers,
and with the frequent defeat of law-suits against the Shinto
ceremonies attendant on the inauguration of work at building
sites, the basic principle of separation of state and religion
shows signs of breaking down. The Church continues to voice
opposition to this trend, mainly through the Catholic Council
for Justice and Peace.
With the passing of Emperor Hirohito in January 1989, the
problem of separation of state and religion suddenly escalated.
Protests from many quarters were lodged against the government's
proposal to carry out the various imperial succession ceremonies
according to the pre-war State Shinto rites and at enormous
cost to the national treasury. The Bishops' Conference, on
the very day of the Emperor's death, addressed a message to
all Catholics, warning against State Shinto, nationalism and
ultranationalism, saying: "Great care must be taken to
avoid divinizing any human being, absolutizing any human system,
or universalizing any particular nationalism." Two days
later a petition was sent to the Prime Minister, requesting
that "freedom of religion and the basic principle of
separation of state and religion be observed on the occasion
of the funeral rites for the late Emperor."
Again, in November of the same year, the standing committee
of the Bishops' Conference sent a petition to the Prime Minister
urging, with regard to the accession of the new Emperor and
the accompanying rites, that the constitutional principle
of separation of state and religion be observed, that these
rites not be considered state functions or receive state funding.
Accordingly, the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace,
in joint action with the National Christian Council, began
a campaign for signatures of protest. The government, however,
maintained that while the funeral observances for Emperor
Hirohito had a religious nature, they also had a public dimension
as Imperial Household functions. Public funds were used, and
the heads of all three powers of state attended the rites.
Traditional religious observances were also part of the accession
ceremonies of the present Emperor despite their being state
The standing committee of the Bishops' Conference addressed
a petition to the Prime Minister in December 1990, in which
it was said that Japan should "learn a lesson from its
past, when state, religion, and the military joined together
to violate the basic human rights and peace of people not
only in Japan but around the world, and especially in Asia."
It urged that "the basic constitutional principles of
separation of state and religion, the sovereignty of the people,
and the renunciation of war be strictly observed and that
Japan contribute to world peace."
The inclusion of "the renunciation of war" in
this plea can surely be attributed to the fact that, even
at this stage, there was already serious concern over the
way things were leading up to the 1992 PKO Law, which opened
the way to dispatching Self-Defense Forces overseas. This
same concern was also operative in the movement to use civilian
chartered planes rather than SDF planes to transport refugees
during the 1991 Gulf War in the Middle East.
7. "BASIC ORIENTATIONS AND PRIORITIES"
The consciousness of being a local church was heightened,
as already noted, by the Pope's 1981 visit. The bishops were
more closely united into one episcopate. They took action
and spoke out together. In fact, it is impossible to respond
to the realities and changes of Japanese society or carry
out the mission of the Church effectively by working only
at a diocesan level or only through the activities of this
or that religious order or congregation. In the 1980s, the
Church in Japan came to feel strongly the need to work as
one toward the common goal of evangelization.
With a growing sense among bishops, priests, religious,
and laity that they all share responsibility for evangelization,
the need was felt for establishing the required structures.
This is what gave birth to the "Basic Orientations and
Priorities of the Catholic Church in Japan," which were
adopted and announced at the ordinary assembly of the bishops
in June 1984. The Bishops' Conference thus committed itself
to reforming the central structure that supports the work
of the entire Church in Japan, and at the same time laid down
a basic common policy for the whole Church and set priorities
for implementing this policy. Among these priorities was a
plan for calling a National Incentive Convention for Evangelization,
which would discuss the direction in which the Church should
move and would submit proposals to the Bishops' Conference.
The Bishops' Conference laid down two basic orientations
for the fulfillment of the mission of evangelization:
1. The good news of salvation is to be brought to each and
2. Salvation is not an individual affair but is to penetrate
the whole of society, with a special concern for the marginalized.
The Conference further enumerated three priorities towards
implementing this basic policy:
1. Dioceses and parishes should become evangelizing communities.
2. Dioceses should set up operable structures for cooperation
with the various religious orders, missionary congregations,
and other groups that work there.
3. Bishops, priests, religious, and lay people should be
brought together for a National Incentive Convention for Evangelization
Priority was thus placed on promoting a sense of shared
responsibility and a united effort among all members of the
Church in order to fulfill the mission of evangelization.
The First National Incentive Convention for Evangelization
(NICE I) held in Kyoto in November 1987, marked a major step
forward in implementing the Conference's basic orientations.
8. NICE I
Vatican II stressed the dignity, rights, and responsibility
of the laity to counterbalance what had been an overly clerical
church. After the Council, therefore, a variety of lay movements
and organizations were encouraged. Still, the laity seldom
had opportunities to participate publicly in decision-making
processes of the Church, to discuss matters on an equal footing
with bishops and priests, or to carry out their share of responsibility.
In this respect, NICE I was an epoch-making experiment, giving
concrete expression in Japan to the spirit of Vatican II.
In preparing for NICE, the Bishops' Conference decided to
take the attitude "listen, absorb, encourage." Accordingly,
open forums for the laity were held throughout all three Ecclesiastical
Provinces (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagasaki) and were attended by some
2000 lay people. The question posed in these forums was "What
do you propose as intermediate and long-range goals for the
Catholic Church in Japan today?" What the laity called
attention to was the gap between Church and society, the gap
between the faith one holds and the life one leads. The bishops
took this as an indication that the Church was too much closed
in on itself and decided to make "Building an Open Church"
the theme of NICE I.
The Conference looked forward to proposals for a more open
Church at three levels: that of the church as a whole (a church
involved in society), that of the parish community (the evangelizing
parish), and that of the individual (faith nurtured in daily
life). For 15 months beginning in July 1986, meetings and
discussions were held in various groups, in parishes and dioceses.
Convened in Kyoto on November 20, 1987, NICE I was attended
by 275 representatives from all 16 dioceses (17 bishops, 112
priests, 53 religious, and 93 lay people). To these must be
added 127 secretaries and some 150 members of the Kyoto Organizing
Discussions went on for four days and were summed up in
14 proposals. These were adopted by the Convention and submitted
to the Bishops' Conference.
The Conference held an extraordinary assembly in December
to consider these proposals and responded with a message entitled
"Let us Live Together in Joy," in which the Conference
expressed its appreciation for NICE I and its proposals and
resolved to break open the Church's self-enclosure through
the conversion of attitude needed to live "together"
"in joy" and through re-examination of how to live
the faith. By "together," the Conference meant building
up church community in partnership with people who have been
relegated by society to a position of weakness. By "in
joy," it envisioned a shift from a static understanding
of faith as a system of precepts and dogmas to a dynamic living
of the faith in daily life; it also intended that the Church
should be a place of joyful communion of God and his people.
(More about NICE I can be found in "Building an Open
Church Official Record of NICE I," issued by the NICE
In order to maintain and further encourage this reorientation
of attitudes, the Bishops' Conference set up the NICE Promotion
Committee and a number of project teams to take action on
the main proposals that had been submitted by NICE: focusing
the light of the gospel on social issues, setting up structures
to facilitate the solving of problems, initiating a program
for on-going training in faith, updating the liturgy, and
reconsidering the present system of dioceses and parishes.
This Committee and the project teams set to work in April
1988. As the problems they face are basic and far-reaching,
a fair amount of time will be needed before concrete results
can be expected. Already in March 1989, however, one proposal
of the Promotion Committee and a project team for on-going
formation was taken up by the Bishops' Conference. With the
full cooperation of the Catechists of Mary, the Conference
decided to open a Japan Catholic On-Going Formation Center
in Nagoya, intending it to be a place where lay people, religious,
priests, and bishops could undergo retooling together. This
Center was opened in February 1991.
Parallel with the work of the NICE Promotion Committee,
other committees, such as the Episcopal Commission for Missionary
Activities and the Catholic Committee for School Education,
tackled proposals pertinent to their own spheres of competence.
In each diocese, a team of lay people, religious, and priests
who had attended NICE I began visiting parishes in order to
help the results of the Convention penetrate into the parish
and at the same time help toward realization of the previously
mentioned goals "together" "in joy."
9. NICE II
As the next major step forward, the Bishops' Conference
decided, at its regular meeting in June 1990, to hold a Second
National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE II),
which would have "the family" as its theme. Three
bishops were elected and put in charge of a secretariat to
prepare for the convention. This secretariat, in order to
focus the theme and formulate tasks for the national convention,
encouraged various meetings and occasions for soliciting ideas
from the laity, religious, and priests throughout Japan regarding
how to handle the theme.
Most of the ideas collected called for a continuation and
development of the guidelines set by NICE I. They urged that
the theme should be situated within the overall direction
the Church of Japan was moving in and said that the convention
should be "a gathering of God's people to think and search
together for ways to promote evangelization, the results of
which would be formally presented in a report to the Bishops'
Two years later, in a regular session of the Bishops' Conference
(July 1992) a compendium of these ideas was drawn up and the
convention's task was formulated: "Finding the Ideal
of Evangelization from the Realities of Family Life Building
Families Founded on the Will of God." It also announced
that the convention would begin on October 21, 1993, and would
last four days. Its purpose would be to discover what strength
and hope Christ gives families to help them face their problems
and sufferings, and to explore how to turn the Church of Japan
into a true community of faith that will respond to Christ's
Each diocese rose to the challenge and made serious efforts
to hold discussions at parish and regional levels. In May
of 1993, about a year after the formulation of the convention's
theme, people responsible for the preparations in each diocese
convened to share and coordinate their efforts up to that
point. They agreed on the following: First of all, especially
since it has the family as its theme, the convention should
not be content with mere verbal sharing, but should aim further
at a genuine sharing of life experiences, such as was actually
taking place and would hopefully continue; in this way the
convention would effectively pursue its basic aim, to explore
ways of evangelization.
At the same time, however, these discussions were clearly
moving in different directions in the various dioceses, and
so it was agreed that the national convention would have to
start from the real situation in each diocese, deepen discussion,
and on the basis of these give clear guidelines for the future
outlook of the Church in Japan. It also agreed that, in order
to keep the convention from drifting away from its main agenda,
it should not attempt to become a forum for solving problems
concerning the family.
The Second National Incentive Convention was held as planned,
October 21-24, 1993, in Nagasaki, with 230 lay people, religious,
priests, and bishops in attendance, representing all 16 dioceses.
In their four days of discussions, the delegates sought to
look at the family situation as a sympathetic, sharing community.
It was pointed out that, even if we can share one another's
joys and sufferings, it is difficult to share goods. In order
to proclaim Christ to each and every family and aim at a community
of faith witnessing to Christ, it was urged, renewal of the
Church itself is an essential. These conclusions were summed
up in the formal report of the convention, entitled "Outlook
Toward a Renewal of the Church of Japan in the Work of Evangelization,"
which was presented to the Bishops. This "Outlook"
proposed the following points for renewal of the Church: 1)
understanding and promoting the spirit of sharing, 2) aiming
at a community which shares feelings and goods, 3) forming
Christians who are able to weigh and evaluate the present
situation, 4) achieving a more imaginative liturgy, 5) fostering
and strengthening the faith of our young people.
The Bishops' Conference took up this Report in its extraordinary
session in December and began to prepare guidelines on what
direction evangelization should take in Japan, having in mind
the present state of the family. Its conclusions were expected
to be announced after a special extraordinary assembly of
the Conference in March 1994.