November 23-26 is the first anniversary of the visit of Pope Francis to Japan. For much of the year since then, the world has been responding to the new coronavirus that has infected more than 55 million people and killed more than 1.3 million. Interactions between people as well as the economy have all been affected, and the future remains uncertain.

What is the best way in this situation to celebrate the anniversary? We have tried to respond to the pope’s message individually, as families, as communities, as parishes and as dioceses. I want to take this opportunity to call on us once again to renew that response.

Make “Protect All Life” a guideline for life

The theme of the papal visit to Japan, Protect All Life, is something that everyone in any era should put into practice. Shall we make this theme an important guide to our lives in the future?

“All life” refers to all living things that share this common home, the Earth, not just humans.1 God has created us all and the environment that sustains us.2 We must value the water and air, which are essential to life. “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”3

Life is not merely physical. Plants and animals have some sort of spirit, and that is especially so in the case of humankind made in the image of God. With body and soul, emotion and intellect, intelligence and free will along with conscience all in unity, humans are given an inner life by the spirit of God.4 Thanks to that inner life that transcends the world of things, human beings can encounter God.5 The spirit of love makes that inner life possible (Romans 5:5). We only truly live by connecting God and others with the natural environment through our bodies and inner life. To cherish all life is to cherish the connection of their living love.

Continue to create a peaceful world

Of all the many ways humanity has found to destroy life, the worst is war.6 In the course of history humankind has developed various weapons of war, the worst of which are nuclear weapons. We saw their reality in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where single nuclear bombs destroyed tens of thousands of lives, and today’s nuclear weapons are tens or hundreds of times more destructive.

There is a notion that peace is maintained by nuclear deterrence, the threat of destruction unleashed by such weapons. However, “One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability,” and “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”7

It is immoral to manufacture or possess nuclear weapons.8 It is a sin against God and others. Manufacturing, developing, maintaining and trading in such destructive weapons while great numbers of people suffer from hunger wastes resources that should be used for the development of all people. It is an act of terrorism against God.9

International peace and stability can be obtained through solidarity and collaboration based on mutual trust. But to do so, we have no choice but to completely abolish the absolute evil of nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is one effective means of realizing this.10 This treaty calls for the prohibition and abolition of the development, testing, manufacturing, stockpiling, transfer, use and threatened use of nuclear weapons. The Vatican was one of the first ratifying countries. In Nagasaki Pope Francis appealed for “a world of peace, free from nuclear weapons” and reminded us that “to make this ideal a reality calls for involvement on the part of all: individuals, religious communities and civil society, countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not, the military and private sectors, and international organizations.” To achieve peace among peoples and nations, the Catholic Church “must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”11

Some think that the pope’s messages in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had some effect upon the fact that on October 24 the number of nations that have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons finally reached 50. Therefore, the treaty will enter into force 90 days after that, next January 22. However, the nuclear powers and countries such as Japan under the nuclear umbrella oppose this treaty. Therefore, it is necessary to mobilize public opinion worldwide and put pressure on the nuclear powers. Japan, the only country that was bombed with atomic weapons, should be a leader in this effort.

Of course, to achieve true peace requires more than the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is also necessary that all people recognize each other’s basic human rights, fulfill their obligations freely with love, and live in the peace of Christ (John 14:27; 20:21).

Protect the global environment

In line with Pope Francis’s wishes in 2016, the bishops’ conference called on churches across the country to take concrete action to protect the global environment, marking each first Sunday of September from this year as Japan’s participation in the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and September 1 to October 4 as the Month for Protecting All Life.12 This year, activities were limited by the new coronavirus pandemic, but it is expected that activities on behalf of creation will take place throughout the year, not just during this month.

Protecting the global environment from further damage requires that each individual and community take concrete action. Specific examples include:

  • Reducing consumption and waste, and the wasteful use of resources like water, electricity, food, etc.
  • Not using or reducing use of environmental pollutants such as detergents and plastic products containing chemical substances.
  • Environmental restoration activities such as clearing litter in public places like beaches, natural areas and cities.

Give Witness to the Gospel of Life

Let us reflect on the messages and sermons given by Pope Francis on his visit to Japan.

Martyrdom: Martyrs who have testified to their faith in the Resurrection with their own deaths invite us to live as disciples who proclaim that faith. “Their witness confirms us in faith and helps us to renew our dedication and commitment to that missionary discipleship which strives to create a culture capable of protecting and defending all life through the daily ‘martyrdom’ of silent service towards all, especially those in greatest need.”13

Christ the King: When Jesus was crucified, there was neither order nor justice. Those who claimed to be just mocked the death of the innocent because of ignorance or indifference. It was in that situation that one of the criminals asked Jesus for salvation. Like that man, we want to be close to the suffering and innocent Lord Jesus. We desire to support his loneliness, to defend him, and to serve him in the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the refugee and the abandoned. To do so, we must “profess courageously that the love poured out in sacrifice for us by Christ crucified is capable of overcoming all manner of hatred, selfishness, mockery and evasion.”14

Disasters: It is essential that victims of natural disasters receive food, clothing and shelter to guarantee a dignified life and contribute to the reconstruction of their community. However, equally essential is “a friendly and fraternal hand, capable of helping to raise not just a city, but also our horizon and our hope.”15 We also desire to sympathize with and live in solidarity with the poor who suffer from environmental pollution, those who are forced to live as refugees, those who lack food for the day and those who are victims of economic disparity.

Discrimination and bullying: After the Great East Japan Earthquake, children from families who moved from Fukushima to other areas were excluded or bullied because they were thought to be radioactively contaminated. Other young people are bullied just because of their body shape or because they are foreigners. About such bullying, the pope said, “It is an epidemic, and together you can find the best medicine to treat it. …. it is necessary that among yourselves, among friends and among colleagues, you join in saying: ‘No! No to bullying, no to attacking another. That’s wrong.’”16

The new coronavirus pandemic forces us to realize how fragile human life is and how many people we rely upon to live. We must give thanks for God’s grace and the support of others. However, infected people, their families and even healthcare professionals are being discriminated against and slandered. We should rather be close to those who are suffering, to support and encourage them. “The proclamation of the Gospel of Life urgently requires that we as a community become a field hospital, ready to heal wounds and to offer always a path of reconciliation and forgiveness.”17

The purpose of living: Speaking to young people, Pope Francis said, “It is not so important to focus on what I live for, but whom I live for. Learn to ask yourselves this question: not what do I live for, rather, for whom do I live? With whom do I share my life?”18

Protect all life: “Worldly attitudes that look only to one’s own profit or gain in this world, and a selfishness that pursues only individual happiness, in reality leave us profoundly unhappy and enslaved, and hinder the authentic development of a truly harmonious and humane society.” All we really need is to joyfully receive our reality and even our freedom as blessings from God, to share with others what we have been given, and to live in communion with each other.19

In his latest encyclical, Pope Francis, seeing the global spread of the new coronavirus infection, affirms that “no one is saved alone.”20 We must recognize each other as brothers and sisters, and build our everyday relationships, societies, politics and social systems based on fraternity, dialogue and fellowship. The modern world is full of ideas and actions that deny or destroy fraternal relationships. These include indifference to selfishness and the common good, control by profit and market logic, racism, poverty, inequality of rights, oppression of women, refugees, and human trafficking. In this situation, we must be good neighbors to the suffering and the weak like the good Samaritan in the parable of Jesus. To do this, we must imitate God’s love and go out of ourselves to respond to others’ hope for a better life because we too are poor creatures who receive God’s mercy. The pope advocates the establishment of a global fund to eradicate hunger by using the wealth “spent on weapons and other military expenditures.” (262). If this fund is established, we should not spare any effort to cooperate.

As Christians, let us promote world peace, justice and love to protect all life. For this purpose, let us “declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” (285) in the name of God and human fraternal love.

I pray that the Pope’s visit to Japan will continue to bear much fruit in the future.

November 23, 2020

Mitsuaki Takami, President
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan