Official Reply of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan To the Lineamenta of the Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly


Official Reply of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan To the Lineamenta of the Synod of Bishops, XIII Or […]

Official Reply of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
To the Lineamenta of the Synod of Bishops, XIII Ordinary General Assembly

Commitment to evangelization in Japan: From National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE) to Today

1. 20th Anniversary of NICE-1 (Introduction, Question 1)

After the closure of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on the Evangelization of modern society by Pope Paul VI in 1975, and especially Pope John Paul II’s official visit to Japan in 1981, the Japanese Bishops published the “Basic Orientations and Priorities of the Catholic Church in Japan” in 1984 and held the First National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE-1) in Kyoto in 1987. Responding to the proposals by the participants of NICE-1, the Japanese Bishops published a message entitled “Let us Live Together with Joy”. The message pointed out the following three tasks that the Church in Japan had to tackle.
 (1) The Church that walks with Japanese Society: the bishops proposed concrete measures to reconsider the faith from the standpoint of life, and the method of evangelization from the standpoint of the real status of society in order that the Church may really walk with society.
 (2) Faith that deepens through life: the bishops proposed concrete measures to deepen faith through life.
 (3) Parishes that evangelize: the bishops proposed concrete measures to make really evangelizing parishes.
 Later, the Second National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE-2) was held in 1993 to discuss the theme: “Finding the Ideal of Evangelization from the Realities of Family Life”. In 1995 the bishops published “Resolution to Peace” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In 2001 the bishops published “Reverence for Life” that expresses the commitment of the Church to the problems of the today’s Japanese Society sharing the sufferings of the oppressed.
 In commemorating the 20th anniversary of the NICE-1, the bishops, reflecting the fruits of the NICE, published the following message:
 “Twenty years have passed since NICE-1 was held. The message “Let us Live Together with Joy” and the encouragement of sharing from the Bishops’ Conference appear to have become steadily widespread. It is especially grateful that bible study meetings have been held frequently in many places in recent years. The number of Catholics of foreign nationalities has been increasing drastically, and seems to be more that 50% of all the faithful in Japan. The solidarity with people of Asian countries such as South Korea and the Philippines has grown stronger. On the other hand, ever more people are suffering from physical and mental burdens, and are hungry and thirsty for the Gospel. Now people are troubled and suffering severe social and home circumstances that should be called the modern wilderness. Therefore we would like to reaffirm our commitment “in keeping with Christ who became one of our brothers in spite of being God, we are committed to develop a religious community which is open to everyone and become solace, strength and hope for everyone” (cf. Declaration of All the Participants, First National Incentive Convention on Evangelization), and will maintain the resolve in the future” (Bishops in charge of NICE “Review”, “The 20th anniversary of The First National Incentive Convention on Evangelization (NICE-1)—In the Year of St. Paul with the Beatification Ceremony—“, June 3, 2008).

2. Events that gave inspiration to the evangelization in Japan (Introduction, Question 2, part 1)

 We can mention following events that recently gave inspiration to the evangelization in the Church of Japan:

 (1) The Activities of Mother Teresa
 The Activities of Mother Teresa taught the importance of preferential option for the little ones and helped this attitude take root not only in the Church, but also in the whole society in Japan. Mother Teresa’s way has become the aim of the young people in Japan. After experiencing the age of economic bubble in Japan (1986-1991) and its collapse, the Japanese society, though still suffering from the aftereffect of the economic collapse, began noticing the importance of the Mother Teresa’s legacy.

 (2) Pope John Paul II’s Visit to Japan
 Pope John Paul II’s Visit to Japan (1981) deeply influenced the Church in Japan. Inspired by the Pope’s Peace Appeal at Hiroshima, the bishops of Japan saw the promotion of peace as the mission of the only country that experienced the destruction by the atomic bombs, established the “10 Days for Peace” and have observed it annually. Till the Pope’s visit to Japan, the Catholic Church in Japan hesitated to intervene to the socio-political problems, but since then it began to commit actively to the evangelization of society.

 (3) The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the Accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
 From the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake that happened on March 11, 2011, the Church in Japan learned the necessity to be humble before nature, the risk of excessive trust in technologies, the importance of the human bonds that have recently become weak, and the value of the wisdom of the ancestors. Above all, this experience could confirm the work of the Holy Spirit through the support given and voluntary activities. The disaster provoked by the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant showed us afresh the terrible nature of nuclear power, the limitation of human science and technologies, and the need of radical change of our life-style.

3. The Social Changes that influenced to the Evangelization in Japan (Introduction, Question 2, part 2)

On the other hand, the following social changes influenced to the Evangelization in Japan.

(1) Recession and the increase of the number of suicide
Japan has experienced that economic and scientific development after the end of the Second World War could not bring happiness to the heart of the many people in the end. Especially, seeing that when the economic development faced its limitation, radical recession occurred, and more than thirty thousand people have been continually driven to commit suicide per year for thirteen years, we have to conclude that the orientation of the development of the global economy in these sixty years was not right before the eye of God.

(2) Increase of the number of the immigrants
The Church in Japan has committed itself to the task of coexistence with the recently increasing immigrants (including many Catholics). It is to be noticed that making the ecclesial communities for the immigrants has been promoted in many areas in Japan. The presence of the immigrants (whether for labor or for marriage) must not be ignored for making ecclesial communities in Japan for today and in the future.

4. What is New Evangelization? (Introduction, Question 3)

 (1) Necessity of the spiritual experience
  150 years have passed since the beginning of the re-evangelization in Meiji Era, but before this re-evangelization, Japanese society experienced two and a half centuries’ deliberate prohibition of Christianity by the state. Therefore, re-evangelization started not from ground zero, but from handicap. We have to consciously and patiently accept this history in order to inculturate Christianity in Japan. We Japanese Christians have to walk for a long way to proclaim the reality and message of the Gospel (Jesus Christ) to this society not through mere translated language but through our own living ordinary language. For the construction of the original Christian culture, accumulation of the deep many spiritual experiences (experiences of the encounter with Christ) is needed. In order to make our own the language for evangelization, we need also guidance to such spiritual experience. Without accepting, realizing and deepening the Gospel through the encounter with living Christ, blind commitment and participation for the sake of the evangelization of the Japanese society cannot escape from the danger of mere activism, and cannot develop and spread the dynamism of evangelization.

 (2) Starting afresh from the fundamentals
 “New Evangelization” in Japanese society means to live in consonance with the following words: “See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind” (Isaiah 65, 17). We have to listen to this appeal and see the creative work at the root of all being. To return to the root of being means to ask again essentially: “Who is Jesus Christ, the Gospel itself?”; “Who is man over whom Jesus bends himself?”; “What is the earth (society, world) on which we human beings live?”. To do this, we must have contemplative eyes. Without ceaselessly endeavoring to ask again these essential questions, we cannot realize “new evangelization” as a Creative Work. Today, people are searching the essence of humanity from the viewpoint of the relationship between “God-Earth-Man”. This viewpoint can be found in the Bible (cf. Gen. 1-3) and is accepted in Japanese society (“Tian-Di-Ren”). In a word, what is essential for the new evangelization is to “start afresh from the fundamentals”.

 (3) Recognizing the Love of the Lord
 “Starting afresh from the fundamentals” means: “recognizing [Christ’s] personal love with that heartfelt awareness which made the apostle Paul say: “Christ loved me and gave up his life for me” (Gal 2:20). Only the awareness of being infinitely loved can help us overcome every personal and institutional difficulty. … It is this love which makes them strong and courageous which instills fire and enables them to dare all”(Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millenium [May 19, 2002], 22).

 (4) Contemplation of the Face of Christ
 Therefore, to think about New Evangelization, we can find the important guiding principle in the following things pointed out by Pope John Paul II: “The ethical and social aspect of the question is an essential element of Christian witness: we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte [Jan. 6, 2001], 52). On this condition , “the men and women of our own day — often perhaps unconsciously — ask believers not only to “speak” of Christ, but in a certain sense to “show” him to them. … Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. … Our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord” (ibid., 16). In order to practice “initial proclamation” of the Christ the Savior in the Japanese society in the new millennium, we have to first be invited to the “contemplation of the Face of Christ”. Considering the Japanese cultural-religious tradition in which people search for “the men and women who met God” rather than doctrines, “New Evangelization” would be difficult without emphasizing the spiritual approach.

 (5) Necessary Interreligious Dialogue
 Japanese society is said to be “secularized society without God”, but at the same time, it is also the “society with many religions” in which many religious communities exist. In such society, the dialogue with the great religious traditions (cf. Lineamenta, Nos. 5; 8) is an essential element for the New Evangelization. The dialogue with the religions, which are based on the human experience of the Transcendent, will be an important condition for the future evangelization.

Chapter I: Time for a “New Evangelization”

5. Orientation of the Mission in the Church of Japan: Living in the midst of the Life of the People and Accompanying them (Ch. I, Question 2)

The experience of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake
 After the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, Sendai Diocese established “Sendai Diocese Support Center” for the relief for the areas and people devastated by the disaster by the full assistance of Caritas Japan. Six Catholic parishes in the devastated areas were set up as bases of relief operations by the (Catholic and non-Catholic) volunteers who came from all over the country. These relief operations aimed at society in general, have been welcomed by the people in the devastated areas. During these operations, the Catholic faithful deepened their understanding that “the mission of the Church is not only for the Church, but for the suffering people in society”. At the same time, the promotion of the “relief project for the devastated areas”, based on the decision by the Bishops, has made visible the “mission to participate in the life of those who live in the midst of society”. This practice will give great impulse both to the faithful who were before too introverted and to the non-Christian people in the devastated areas.

6. Mission to the rural areas that was before forgotten (Ch. I, Questions 4; 12, 13)

  (1) Urban areas and rural areas
 In Japan, the Church has not fully entered into the rural areas. Many parishes are located mainly in the urban areas. Even in rural dioceses, parishes are located mainly in the great towns. However, immigrant Catholics who married Japanese are giving hope to such rural areas. In the ecclesial communities, that from the outset recognized the immigrant faithful and their important role and endeavored to construct skillfully the relationship between immigrants and Japanese faithful, new hope is awakening.

 (2) Vitalizing the power of the immigrant faithful
 For example, in Shinjô city, Yamagata Prefecture, in Niigata diocese (in October 2010) and Jôsô City, Ibaraki Prefecture in Saitama diocese (in February 2009), new parishes were established. In those parishes, Japanese faithful are few, and most of the faithful are faithful who came from the Philippines and their children. The awareness that the immigrant faithful by themselves give life to their ecclesial communities, gave rise to the consciousness that they are not just guests in Japan among the immigrant faithful, and at the same time, this gave opportunities to the Japanese faithful to experience the Church that spread worldwide. Especially for the immigrant faithful who live in the rural areas, the establishment of the parishes provoked in them the awareness for evangelization that they are sent for the evangelization to Japan in God’s plan. It might be “bold” to establish a new parish, a new church in the situation of the diocese in today’s Japanese rural area. In Shinjô City and Jôsô City, when the churches suddenly appeared in small towns in the rural areas, they were welcomed by the inhabitants of those areas.

7. To raise the question of God in the dialogue with the people (Ch. I, Questions 8; 9)

 (1) Rejection of religion
 In Japan, due to the economic development and scientific innovation after the end of the Second World War, secularization advanced rapidly. For this reason religion became a marginalized object from the occult concern or only something that may bring about divine profit to the secular life. In other words, man takes the place of God as the subject of this world. The debacle by the Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 gave great negative influence to the many people’s sense of religion. Criminal acts by the cultic religion that adore its human founder gave the impression to many people that religion in general is dangerous. This kind of impression exists even today. Generally speaking, Japanese people are very cautious about religions except traditional Shintoism and Buddhism.

 (2) New attempt of evangelization
 (a) NGO activities

 Even in the relief operation for the Great Earthquake in March 2011, when Catholic Church members helped devastated people in the name of the Catholic Church, people might be very cautious at first towards that activity. Therefore, the name of Caritas Japan as NGO, which has worldwide trust and is well known in the general secular society, was very useful.
 (b) New place for evangelization
 Shinsei-Kaikan (Tokyo), established by Fr. Sôichi Iwashita (1889-1940) in 1934, provided the unique place for education of the youth and evangelization that is different from parishes and Catholic schools. Missionary priest Georges Neyrand (1920-2011), who were former chairman of the Shinsei Kaikan, established a snack bar “Epopée” in Shinjuku, Tokyo in 1980 as the space for evangelization for office workers.
 (c) Commitment to the youth
 We can classify two groups of youth: one group is indifferent to religion and the other belongs fanatically to new religions. Most of the youth do not have little or no concern for religion. However, even the young people participate in the traditional religious rituals (for example, the visit to the shrines during the New Year) and they are generally interested in the so called “spiritual” books or vague “spirituality”. Today, we have to “help young people make their own place by themselves, or accompany them in making their place”, but not to “give the place to young people”. “The Japan Catholic Liaison Conference for Youth” (officially recognized by Japanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan), established in 2000 to support inter-diocesan activities of the Catholic youth, promotes “Network Meeting”. The Church needs to support places in which young people spontaneously and actively participate, using Internet and social forum.

Chapter II: Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ

8. Family as the first place for evangelization (Ch. II, Questions 1; 8; 9)

 (1) Education of prayer in families
 Since for the faithful, the excellent place of spiritual experience is obviously the Holy Mass, first of all, good liturgical education is needed. In the daily life, prayer is the source of the spiritual experience, but not enough prayer guidance is given. And the faithful might neglect their daily prayer. We have to endeavor to stabilize the custom to pray together in one’s family. Though family must be the foundation for learning prayer (cf. Dt. 6, 4-9), but most families do not practice prayer. Especially mothers have important responsibility to teach their children to pray as the first step of catechesis of the children. What is important is, first, to establish among the parents and their children the custom to pray together in each family, second, to share the Bible between parents and children. The theme of NICE-2 (1993) was “Finding the Ideal of Evangelization from the Realities of Family Life”.

(2) Evangelization in the families
The first step of the “New Evangelization” may be this: that, in the Church, the laity can accept the duty of catechesis with their responsibility. Especially in catechesis, the principles must be established that catechists and catechumens share together the Gospel in order not to educate one-sidedly. In Japan, we can rarely find family in which all the members are faithful. Therefore, the first place of evangelization is each family. Pope Paul VI emphasized the importance of the evangelization in families as follows: “the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families” (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, No. 71). It is urgent to begin “New Evangelization” first from families.

 (3) Formation of the parents
 Due to the secularization of culture, catechesis in family became even more difficult. Therefore, we have to reeducate parents in order that they can give their children catechesis at least in family in the midst of the secularized age. At the same time, if several families together form the community, children can be given catechesis based on their life. Especially when all the members are not faithful, it is important that several families cooperate with each other.

9. The place in which the youth can encounter Christ (Ch. II, Question 3)

 (1) Exposure program of volunteer activity
  Today’s young people are interested in the volunteer activities. To reflect on the life for others and one’s faith through volunteer activities and exposure program in the third world or devastated areas, can effectively promote vocations for priesthood, religious life or lay ministry. Participation in the exposure program in which young people can encounter the poor and share life with them, can be the opportunity to find the way to live for others.

 (2) To respond to the youth’s thirst for the spirituality
 At the same time, there are not few young people who have thirst to encounter living Christ. Recently many young people participate in the meditation session for the youth or meditation session for vocation. Many young people participated in WYD and “Network Meeting” and practice actively contemplative prayer. We have to work hard to respond to this kind of thirst of the youth.

10. Formation of the laity as evangelizer (Ch. II, Questions 18; 19)

 The awareness that each Christian is evangelizer is not enough formed. In general, few faithful who are active in the study groups or lay apostolic movements have found their place to evangelize while most faithful do not participate in the apostolic activities outside of the Holy Mass. If the laity are formed to give catechesis both to non-Christians and Christians by themselves, they can practice fruitful apostolic activity. Since most of the faithful are not informed about the fact that they are called to be evangelizer as they are baptized and given the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, they are not enough conscious of their duty as evangelizer. Therefore, continuing faith education is needed. The training is needed to see the events in the realities of life in the light of the Gospel. In a word, we have to learn to pray.

11. Reconstruction of “New Catechesis” (Ch. II, question 16)

  During forty years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, the Church of Japan introduced liturgical reform and were awakened about its identity as community in the history, that is “Pilgrim People of God” rather than hierarchical institution. But it cannot be said that every community was really renewed according to the Gospel. Therefore, we are called to commit anew ourselves to the renewal of the whole Church that was called for by the Second Vatican Council, now in the name of “New Evangelization”. The first step of this renewal must be the reconstruction and implementation of the “New Catechesis” based on the Second Vatican Council. Inculturation is essential for the “New Catechesis”.

Chapter III: Initiation into the Christian Experience

12. Catholic Schools as the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” (Ch. III, Question 24)

 Most of the teachers and students in the Catholic schools in Japan are non-Christians. All the Catholic Educational institutions can be called as the “Courtyard of the Gentiles”. Catholic schools and institutions play the important role for pre-evangelization.
 Catholic education in Japan has history of more than one hundred years. There are 847 Catholic schools with 220,000 students, 27,000 teachers (1,470 clerics and religious [5%]). However, the number of clerics and the religious working in the Catholic schools is decreasing, and the circumstance of the Catholic schools is hard due to the decrease of the population of the children. Each Catholic schools endeavors to reconfirm the spirit of their foundation and Catholic identity.
 Recently, groups, in which teachers of several Catholic schools together learn the identity of the Catholic school and share their experiences, were established. Committee for School Education, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan began to commit itself to inform teachers in Catholic Schools about the Catholic identity through the publication of a document entitled “For the Understanding Christianity: to all who work in the Catholic Schools” (2011).

13. Lay apostolate in Japan (Ch. III, Question 5)

 In Japan, many lay movements and communities were active after the end of the Second World War. For example, Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne internationale (JOC) was introduced in 1949, Action Catholique Ouvrière (ACO) was introduced in 1950, Christian Life Community (CLC) was established in 1968. However, under the influence of the violent worldwide students’ movement, many of them declined. The dissolution of the Catholic Students’ Association in 1968 was a sadly symbolic event. On the other hand, some movements such as Société de Saint Vincent de Paul (established in 1914) for charitable activities, Legio Mariae (established in 1948) which serve the people through Marian devotion, Marriage Encounter (from 1977) are active in many dioceses even today. There are nineteen lay Catholic movements and communities that are recognized officially by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan.

14. Neocatechumenal Way and the division that it introduced into Japan (Ch. III, Question 27)

 Some dioceses in Japan introduced Neocatechumenal Way with a bit of expectation. However, since the size of the ecclesial communities was small and the regions were cautious to foreign religion, its missionary activities did not greatly succeed. Rather, it became evident that it has danger to introduce division into the already small parish communities. We must not ignore the fact that the size of the parish in the rural diocese in Japan is very small. We can easily find parishes in which the number of the participants in the Sunday Holy Mass is only around ten. Though in such parishes, the activities like the Neocatechumenal Way must be introduced with prudent judgment of the situation. In Japan it was practiced in the same way as in other countries. We think that this was the reason for the failure of the missionary activity by the Neocatechumenal Way.
 We can find many things to learn for the Evangelization from Neocatechumenal Way, but it has the following problems: that it insists and maintains its sole method and forces it the bishops under the authority of the recognition of the Holy Father; that it has powerful community (despite their claim), it has its own command system, its own financial system that is incompatible with Japanese law. It does not obey the instruction of the diocesan bishop.
 In a word, today, the Neocatechumenal Way is a movement unnecessary for the Church in Japan. Roman Curia seems not to understand how the Church in Japan suffered and experienced for many years the pain of division of the Church introduced by this movement (Neocatechumenal Way). Its method for evangelization has been greatly harmful for the Church in Japan.

15. “New Evangelization” and reorganization of formation programmes for candidates to the priesthood (Ch. III, question 29)

The establishment of the Japan Catholic Seminary
 The vision of the “New Evangelization” for the Japanese society, in the midst of the changes caused by globalization and the present situation, continual commitment and prayer for the renewal―all these gave rise to the present Japan Catholic Seminary. In 2009, two major seminaries located separately in Fukuoka and Tokyo were integrated under the vision for the New Evangelization of the Japanese Bishops. The formation now under way in this major seminary is one of the important fruits of the above vision and commitment.

Oct. 7, 2011
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan