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Japan Catholic News

September 2009

"Nippon Notes" by William Grimm

TOKYO (UCAN) -- Even in Japan, the books and movies of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series are popular. Japanese translations of the books have been available for many years and the recent film versions of two of them have been box office successes.

One of the books, The Horse and His Boy, is about Shasta, a boy who thinks he is the son of a poor fisherman in the cruel country called Calormen. However, he is really a prince from another land. The book tells of his adventures and how he discovers his true identity and family.

Most of the world's people are like Shasta. They think they live in a cruel world. They think that injustice, pain and death are the real story of the world.

Of course, they have reasons for thinking so. There is much injustice, poverty and suffering in the world. We suffer the physical pain of injury and illness. We suffer the emotional pain of loneliness and lost friendship. We suffer the spiritual pain of facing an unknown future. We and everyone we love will die.

But there are people who know otherwise. They know that they are beloved children of God. They know that this universe is a gift to God's children. They know that God loves them with an unlimited love. They know that not even death is stronger than God's love. They know that they are princes and princesses of the Kingdom of God. They are Christians. They also know that every other human being who has ever lived is also a prince, a princess.

The world suffers because people either do not know or allow themselves to forget who they really are. If we realized who we are and among whom we live, could we continue to treat others and ourselves the way so many do? Would the world be so marred by sin, fear and selfishness as it is?

All people have the right to know who they really are. We Christians have the duty to show them. It is the ultimate demand of justice.

Mission Sunday, which falls on Oct. 18 this year, is a day to recall that wherever a Christian may be, that is a place to do evangelization. It may be in a foreign land or in our own homeland. It may be in Church institutions or in our own homes.

Wherever I am, I can treat others as princes and princesses. I can show them the love of their Father and invite them to believe that they really are princes and princesses of the Kingdom.

In his message for Mission Sunday 2009, Pope Benedict XVI says: "The goal of the Church's mission is to illumine all peoples with the light of the Gospel as they journey through history towards God, so that in Him they may reach their full potential and fulfillment. We should have a longing and a passion to illumine all peoples with the light of Christ that shines on the face of the Church, so that all may be gathered into the one human family, under God's loving fatherhood."

The mission of the Church is to be the evidence of the "full potential and fulfillment" of each person. In our prayer, in our teaching and in our service we must live as confident children of God. Our confidence must be attractive and contagious. We live with joy and hope because we know that just as Shasta's story ends with finding his true family, all people are called to know their true family, the children of God the Father.

Maryknoll Father William Grimm is the former editor-in-chief of Katorikku Shimbun, Japan's Catholic weekly.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not represent the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan.

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In 2005 and 2007, Israeli and Palestinian high school students were invited to Japan to meet with Japanese high school students for the Children Interacting for Peace Project (CIPP). For the third visit, Japanese students visited Israel and Palestine for two weeks at the end of July this year.

CIPP also sponsored the Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Gathering July 4 at the Infant Jesus Sisters' Nicholas Barre Convent in Tokyo in order to report on the motives and preparations leading up to the trip.

Over 100 participants gathered for the event where executive committee chairperson Hiroko Inoue spoke about how the project began with an idea proposed by Franciscan Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, pastor of a church in Jerusalem, and the positive experience shared by the young representatives of the three nations during the previous two meetings. Inoue emphasized the enthusiasm of previous participants, now college students, who helped with preparations for this year's meeting.

After the introduction of this year's participants and the young people who were helping with the preparations, Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic officials spoke about the two nations' struggle for peace.

Israeli embassy representative Israel Stotorovar said, "In spite of all the difficulties, I am confident that there is hope of both sides seeing the road to a solution. There is no way but to live next to each other in a land which is about the same size as Shikoku Island."

Palestinian resident diplomatic representative Nasarl Bisham said, "One thing we must never forget is that there are people who, for their own ends, hate peace. We must work to defeat such people. We cannot give up even if we cannot find a peaceful solution at present."

Both representatives emphasized that through dialogue and mutual understanding, the walls separating the two peoples could be destroyed and the situation could be changed. While expressing gratitude for the peace effort from Japan, they also expressed their desire for more involvement by the Japanese.

A committee staff member, speaking of the two diplomats, said, "It appears their families often get together. They get along here, away from their countries."


The Japan Catholic Committee against Buraku (Outcaste) Discrimination through Human-Rights Approaches, chaired by Sendai Bishop Tetsuo Hiraga, visited the meat market and Shibaura slaughterhouse in Minato, Tokyo, part of the Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market.

The exposure tour was organized as part of the committee's Aug. 23-24 annual summer training camp. Twenty-seven people took part, including Bishop Hiraga, Jesuit Father Shogo Sumita, and Osaka diocesan priest Father Hideki Yoshioka. The camp attracted several newcomers and some schoolteachers as well.

In 1867, at the dawn of the Meiji Restoration, the first slaughterhouse was established in Minato to meet an increasing demand for meat. Demand continued to grow and slaughterhouses were set up in many places other than Tokyo. Because of the problems of both financing the meat business and deep-rooted public sentiment against slaughtering, some of them were forced to close down.

Discrimination against livestock slaughtering has a long history and many negative, slanderous words and phrases have been attached to the profession. An example is the saying, "Like cows and pigs driven to the slaughterhouse," which means figuratively people taken forcibly to a unwanted place and implicitly the cruelty and ruthlessness of animal slaughtering.

In 1936 a new slaughterhouse was built at the present site. In 1966 the Tokyo Government set up a meat market as part of its Central Wholesale Market. With new technologies and systems the combination of the two increased the capacity to fill the ever-increasing demand for meat in the metropolitan area as well as its satellite cities.

The slaughterhouse produces carcasses, internal organs and hides, while the market puts them up for auction.

On the first day of the tour, participants watched a video at an auditorium of the Meat Market. The video showed the butchering of steers and hogs. Following the film, Jun Takagi, deputy director for the Tokyo-Shinagawa Branch of the Buraku Liberation League (BLL) talked about discrimination against Buraku.

Takagi described malicious blogs on the Internet, letters of defamation and slander, and the tragedy of broken engagements due to the fiancé being a meat worker.

He stressed that those involved in the meat business are under social oppression in that they cannot openly declare their profession, yet they are proud of being professional specialists.

Takagi concluded that the meat business is neither cruel nor impure and that leading the general public to this understanding eliminating discrimination remains a major thrust for the BLL.

On the second day, Aug. 24, participants, wearing working clothes and helmets, were allowed to enter the butchering space. There, they watched butchers cut meat, hides and organs off animal carcasses with brisk efficiency. Participants said they admired the workers' professional skills.

Deacon Masayuki Nezu, secretary of the committee, explained that the aim of this year's summer program was to help participants realize that while the area near the JR Shinagawa Station has been extensively renovated over the past few years and is now notable for new office towers and shopping malls, there remains a spot that is unchanged and gains little attention of passers-by, the Shibaura slaughterhouse, an object of discrimination.

Deacon Nezu admitted that some felt that showing the slaughtering of animals might actually promote discrimination against those engaged in the work. However, he kept the plan going because he felt the importance of letting members and attendants know the reality.

Aine Ono, a Catholic from Tokyo, said she took part in the program out of curiosity about what the slaughterhouse was. She added that having listened to Takagi she became aware that the slaughterhouse itself was a source of discrimination. She finished her comments by saying, "A consciousness that wills to eliminate every discrimination is important."


On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) issued a message, "Respect for the Human Rights of All," last Dec. 10. As a follow-up to the message, the CBCJ planned a series of three teach-in symposia.

After the first one in Fukuoka in March a second was held July 11 at the Motoderakoji Church in Sendai with over 200 participants.

The symposium was opened by an address by Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Social Activities, followed by presentations on the Universal Declaration and the CBCJ message.

The session was moderated by Bishop Goro Matsuura, auxiliary bishop of Osaka and chairman of the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace. Three bishops took the rostrum.

The first speaker was Saitama Bishop Daiji Tani, chairman of the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move. He spoke on the theme "Reading Exodus from the Viewpoint of Laborers on the Move" and focused on the Ten Commandments.

Bishop Tani pointed out three elements of the Commandments. The first is that they were written for Jews in exile. The second is that they were a message from God as liberator of the chosen people. And the last is that they were the voice of God Himself who knew the sufferings of the exiled. Afterwards, he explained the individual commands in detail. He concluded that the Ten Commandments were a product of the close analysis of the exilic life and a presentation of the ways to overcome the problems. He added that following God's style we must first analyze and know the causes and effects of the violation of human rights and then establish measures for remedy and change.

Niigata Bishop Isao Kikuchi, director of Caritas Japan, spoke about "Poverty and Aid." He referred to the Article 25 of the UN Declaration that stipulated "the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being" and said that the world today fell in a vicious circle that as more advanced countries become wealthy, the poor countries become more impoverished. He added that to break the circle with aid for poor countries had been and would continue to be the prime aim of Caritas Japan.

The bishop said that the UN's Millennium Development Goals presented objectives for the world to achieve and that the Church should share them in her social activities. He also reminded the participants that a good number of references to the protection of human rights appear in CBCJ official documents. "We are called for helping people from both inside and outside of the Church," he said.

Bishop Tetsuo Hiraga of the Sendai diocese, chairman of the Japan Catholic Committee against Buraku Discrimination through Human Rights Approaches spoke about "an unreasonable discrimination against the Hansen's disease."

The keynote of his speech was the importance of realizing that we might discriminate against the oppressed. A thorough seclusion of Hansen's disease patients was a policy adopted by the government of Japan in the past. The Church as a community sent to spread the Good News is required to fight against such wrong policies.

A questioner from the floor asked, "Parish activities look at the spiritual development of individuals. What do you bishops want us to do through a symposium like this?"

Bishop Kikuchi answered, "As much as we learn from Masses, we wonder how to live a life of thanksgiving for the grace the Mass gives us. One of the answers we bishops can present is that you laity must get yourselves involved in various matters and problems so that you may touch the realities of the world. Then your faith will be deepened and lead you along the road of the evangelization of Japan."


An interdenominational Japanese Christian health workers group is preparing to celebrate 50 years of mission work in 2010, having sent 70 workers to 11 countries based on Christ's injunction to love one another.

Current members of the Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Services (JOCS) include eight medical professionals working in five countries, helping the handicapped, minorities, and poor parents and children as well as those passed over by governmental assistance.

Doctors, nurses, midwives and physiotherapists serve at Christian hospitals and NGOs in Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tanzania.

Keiko Suwa, a parishioner of Tokyo's Koganei Church, works as a nurse at a women's shelter run by the Sisters Adorers in Cambodia, caring for women, especially those victimized by sex trafficking. The shelter teaches them skills for independent living.

In Pakistan, which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, a pediatrician is working to improve care for newborns at St. Raphael's Hospital, run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

Dr. Shinichi Miyagawa recently completed three years in Bangladesh and has briefly returned to Japan. Dr. Miyagawa, who had worked in a Fukuoka emergency hospital, quit that position in order to work for JOCS. Starting in September, he will begin a second mission at Christian hospitals in an area of mountain villages, treating everything from malaria and acute respiratory infections to diarrhea in a place where government health initiatives have yet to make an impact. At the same time, he will work with locals to increase public awareness and action toward eco-friendly living.

Special features of JOCS members are their service to the neediest people, and the fact that to the extent possible they bring their families to the missions. Dr. Miyagawa brought his wife and young child; female workers have brought their husbands and children.

Dr. Miyagawa said, "From the start, I wanted to use my medical skills to work hand-in-hand with the people the way that JOCS does. Before I got married, I had my wife and her parents understand that, so when I left the emergency hospital, there wasn't a word of disagreement."

The roots of JOCS go back more than 70 years. Amid the tragedy that followed the Japanese invasion of China, doctors answered a call from Japanese pastors to voyage to China. Afterward, Christian medical professionals established the Japan Christian Medical Association. In 1960, JOCS was established and the first dispatch of medical personnel took place the following year.

JOCS overseas affairs manager Kyoko Kawaguchi explained, "In the beginning, workers were sent to Indonesia. As a country deeply wounded by Japan's war of aggression, anti-Japanese sentiment was fierce, but they worked hard to establish reconciliation and peace. In the dispatched fields, they met frequently Korean ministry groups and, starting with an apology for actions taken during the war, they began their service."

Upon returning to Japan, volunteers invariably say they learned more and received more than they had given.

JOCS trains medical workers through workshops, covering expenses with membership fees, donations and profits from sales of used stamps.

For details on how to contribute and more information on mission work, please contact the JOCS Tokyo office at 03-3208-2416 or the Kansai office at 06-6359-7277.


Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the "Year for Priests" on June 19 to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

Since its parish patron is St John Vianney, the Koenji Catholic Church in Tokyo has developed its own devotion program to mark the year.

Fr. Yoshitaka Yoshiike, the pastor, announced at a Mass June 21 that starting that day and continuing for one year the parish will pray for priests and seminarians through the intercession of the Curé of Ars. A phrase of the saint, "the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus," was chosen as a theme.

On the first Sunday of each month a special prayer will be added to the general intercessions at Mass. The August intention was for "priests working for justice and peace." A prayer was also prepared for both parishioners and pilgrims to recite at the Concluding Rite of Mass.

Another project is to receive pilgrims. The Koenji Church has an altar dedicated to St. Vianney and holds a relic of the saint, a remnant of his clothing.

The parish has produced a brochure and card. The former depicts the story of "How St. John Vianney Became Our Patron" and the latter prints a prayer asking for the saint's intercession. The prayer was composed by the parish and authorized by the archdiocese.

Tokyo Archbishop Takeo Okada led a Mass for the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney on Aug. 2, the Sunday closest to the Aug. 4 feast of the saint. About 300 men and women including Fr. Takeshi Sakuma, who had served as a deacon at the parish, attended.

In his homily Archbishop Okada referred to the saint's practice of spending hour after hour in the confessional and urged priests to encourage the faithful to a more frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In a panel discussion after the Mass, Archbishop Okada, Fr. Sakuma and Fr. Yoshiike spoke about the apostolate of lay people. The archbishop exhorted attendees to place all personal worries before God at Mass, receive Communion and keep ever conscious of being evangelizers through their daily life.

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