FABC 50 GENERAL CONFERENCE — Preparatory response from the Church in Japan


FABC 50 GENERAL CONFERENCE Preparatory response from the Church in Japan                                    1. […]

Preparatory response from the Church in Japan

1. SITUATION – What are the realities you face? What are the signs of the times? What is the social, economic, political, religious situation? Are there any particular cultural or ecological challenges?

0.1. Geography and Climate
Japan is a thin bow-shaped archipelago consisting of four main islands and almost 6,850 small ones. It stretches about 2,800 km from Okinawa in the south with a subtropical marine climate north to Hokkaido with a subarctic climate and has a total area of about 378,000 km2.
The country is surrounded by the sea, and mountains account for more than 60% of its surface area. It is blessed with natural beauty and has four distinct seasons. There are many volcanos, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis occur frequently.

0.2 Historical Background
Confucianism and Buddhism were introduced from China via Korea in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, and have had a major impact on Japanese religion, culture, and life. Christianity was introduced in the 16th century, and trade with Portugal, Spain, China, and other countries developed. However, the Edo shogunate (1614–1873) banned Christianity and in order to thoroughly eliminate it made the port of Nagasaki the only window for foreign trade. A unique culture flourished in Japan.
After the establishment of the Meiji government in 1868, Japan fought wars with China and Russia and participated in World War I. The Allies defeated Japan in the Pacific War after air raids across the country and two atomic bombs. On the other hand, Japan inflicted great suffering on the peoples of Asia and the South Pacific. We must not forget our apologies to them and our responsibility to build peace.
Article 9 of the post-war Constitution of Japan renounces war as a means of resolving international disputes and therefore the country does not have an army, though there is a Self-Defense Force. Fortunately, a majority of Japanese have shown strong resistance to any moves to change Article 9. Japan has a special responsibility to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons because it has experienced nuclear warfare.

0.3. Current Situation
Japan’s population as of July 2021 is 126,109,556. In 2011, the birth rate started to decline for the first time after the war, a trend that has continued to the point that in 2020 the number of births per women was only 1.34. The average life expectancy (males: 81 years, females: 87 years) is the highest in the world. According to statistics from September 2020, people over the age of 65 — 36,170,000 — make up 28.7% of the population.
When 14% of a society’s population is over age 65, it is called an “aging society.” A society with 14 to 21% over age 65 is an “aged society,” and when the percentage exceeds 21% it is called a “super-aged society.” Japan is now a super-aged society.
The declining birth rate and the super-aged society are leading to a decline in the working-age population, challenges in geriatric medical care, and fewer opportunities for younger generations to play an active role in various public institutions.

1.1. Signs of the Times

1.1.1 A Multinational Society
As the work force, especially unskilled labor, became insufficient due to population decline, the government looked to foreign countries for workers.
In 1989, there were 980,000 foreign residents in Japan. In the 1990s the country began accepting South Americans of Japanese ancestry and technical intern trainees, and by 2019 there were 2.93 million foreigners resident in Japan, of whom 1.65 million were workers. Almost half are Chinese and Vietnamese. Other large groups are Filipinos, Brazilians, Nepalese, Koreans and Indonesians.
As a result, the Church in Japan has also become multicultural and multinational. We are exploring the development of a rich Church community while facing challenges such as a sluggish economy, problems in daily life, international marriage, support for children born and growing up in Japan, and complications arising from relations between Japanese and foreign Catholics.
Japanese society has developed by choosing, becoming expert in and using foreign ideas, knowledge and technologies. Now it is time to accept and integrate people from other countries and cultures who contribute to our economy.

1.1.2 Pope Francis’ Visit to Japan
The pope’s visit to Japan in November 2019 is a sign of the times. The pope’s appearance, actions and message had an impact on many Japanese. From now on, the challenge is to find ways to realize the theme of the visit, “Protect All Life.”

1.1.3 The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Though Japan is a developed country, social disparities and the gap between rich and poor are widening during the corona disaster. The number of people facing financial crisis is increasing with many only a step away from extreme poverty. More and more young women and single mothers are facing poverty. As non-regular employment increases and the economy is restricted due to pandemic measures, many young people and foreign workers are losing their jobs and face difficulties. Low-paid technical intern trainees are also being driven to the social margins.
In the Church, there is a need for ingenuity to revitalize the faith life of believers while public Masses and other activities are cancelled.

1.2. The Social Situation

1.2.1 Social Inequality and Poverty
According to a 2019 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the poverty rate (income below 50% of the median annual income) among residents is 15.4% (1 in 6 to 7), and the relative poverty rate of children is 13.5% (1 in 7 to 8). The child poverty rate for single-parent families is as high as 50.8%.
The majority of people are in search of peace of mind and stability, but increasingly ignore the situation of others. Politically, the system is becoming increasingly protectionist and nationalistic.

1.2.2 The Family
Divorces have declined every year since peaking at about 290,000 in 2002, but in 2020 there were more than 190,000, and the divorce rate (the number of divorces per 1,000 people) was 1.57. Divorce, of course, has a negative impact on children.
In the last decade, domestic violence (DV) caused by domestic problems and mental illness has increased, reaching more than 130,000 cases in 2020.
There is a growing consciousness of the dignity and human rights of each person.

1.2.3. Women’s Rights
Japan ranks 104 out of 142 countries and regions in the Gender Equality Ranking (2014). The gender gap is very large and women’s social status is remarkably low. In 2020, the percentage of women in parliament was 9.9%, compared to a global average of 25%. That is the lowest percentage among developed countries such as the G7, ranking 165 out of 191 countries worldwide. It demonstrates the low awareness of women’s rights. The situation is the same in the Church.
There are laws prohibiting gender discrimination in employment and laws aimed at gender equality in social activities, but the prioritizing of men is deep-rooted. This is said to be because mothers’ rights have been valued over women’s rights. However, influenced by the global #MeToo movement, public awareness is gradually improving.

1.2.4. The Increase in Foreign Workers and Related Problems
Foreign workers look for respect for their rights, justice in terms of labor contracts and a decent living.
The goal of the first foreign nationals who came to Japan was to work, earn money and have a decent life. They lacked the opportunity and information to provide for the education of their children. It was difficult for them to fully adapt to Japanese life. Now as they are aging they face other problems. Many do not have pensions, nor can they return to their home countries.
Even when their children marry a Japanese, the difficulty and complexity of Japanese language, customs, social rules and family relationships are a burden. The movement to integrate foreign residents into Japan’s general social community is very sluggish, and there are even voices that oppose it.
Many young people of foreign nationality have suffered from social prejudice, lack of Japanese language training, poverty and discrimination. However, young people who study hard and adapt to society are setting a good example for the children who follow them.

1.2.5. Suicide
From a high of more than 30,000 in 2011, the number of suicides has declined to about 20,000 in 2020. Problems with family, school, work, finances, relations between men and women, and health have become serious, and lead in many cases to depression and suicide. The number of suicides among teens and those in their 20s is increasing slightly due to an inability to find meaning in life. Males account for more than twice as many suicides as females.

1.2.6. Bullying, the Death Penalty and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons
Discrimination and bullying take place in schools and society. Especially among the younger generation cases of bullying due to nationality, skin color and physical characteristics are increasing. Some victims are driven to take their own lives. It is necessary to conduct a thorough analysis of the messages that the younger generation gets from media and their awareness of the dignity and rights of each person.
Only nine percent of people want the death penalty abolished and 80.8 percent, especially males, think it is unavoidable.
Based on Japan’s experience of war, the world’s only wartime atomic bombings and the explosion of a nuclear power plant, the country has a mission to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons, war, nuclear power plants, etc.

1.2.7. Adverse Effects of the Development of Information Technology
The spread of IT has brought about various adverse effects such as hate speech that exploits Social Networking Services (SNS), addiction to information devices, and the dilution of human relationships. Anonymous information dissemination over the Internet has become commonplace, encouraging aggression against those who are different. Disregarding truth or falsity, attacks against the weak increase, and even among young victims, many commit suicide because of psychological pressures.

1.3. The Political Situation

1.3.1. The Japanese Political System
Japan is a constitutional parliamentary democracy with a cabinet system in which the Diet (parliament) is the highest body. There is also an emperor who is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People” (Constitution of Japan, Article 1). There are 47 regional governments.
Japan renounces war in Article 9 of its Constitution, but since the end of World War II has remained at peace under its alliance with the United States and the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

1.3.2. People’s Interest in Politics
Nearly 70% of Japanese think that national policies fail to reflect the views and opinions of the people. Many people are uninterested in voting. Many important issues in national politics are often simply decided by the ruling party. The importance of contributing to society as citizens has not been inculcated in people. Those who make political statements are also slandered or otherwise attacked. However, young people who have realized that the coronavirus disaster has a close relationship with policy are beginning to take an interest in politics.
There is strong rejection within the Church of the Church’s social teachings tied to politics. For this reason, some bishops find it difficult to communicate to the Church the contents of papal encyclicals related to justice and peace.

1.3.3. Refugee Policy
The Japanese government’s immigration policies and relevant laws are far from human rights demands and international standards on this issue. In particular, they are very strict regarding refugees, with only 0.5% of asylum applicants being recognized as refugees. Others are forced into immigration detention centers with no sense of their future. The unparalleled strictness of Japan’s refugee recognition policies needs to be changed.

1.4. The Economic Situation

1.4.1. The Labor Force
In fiscal 2020, the average number of regular employees was 35.49 million, an increase of 330,000 from the previous year. The number of non-regular (part-time, etc.) employees was 20.66 million, a decrease of 970,000. According to the December 2020 labor statistics, the total cash income decreased for the first time in eight years. The unemployment rate averaged 2.8% in 2020, or 2.09 million.
The number of foreign workers reached a record high of 1,724,328 in October 2020.
In April 2019, the government established a special status of residence for foreigners with specific skills in 14 fields (Specific Skills No. 1 and 2) and accept up to 345,000 foreign workers by 2024. Foreign workers are expected to increase in the future.
The homeless population was 4,555 in 2019. Many of these people are in large cities, but the number is declining due to government policies.

1.5. The Religious Situation

1.5.1. Christianity
From 1549 the Jesuits and from the 1580s Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians joined to establish churches, religious houses, schools and hospitals. The Church developed thanks to their dedicated evangelization. By 1614, there were 105 priests serving about 500,000 believers. However, in that same year, Christianity was banned across the country, and according to incomplete historical materials in the following decades there were 5,000 martyrs. Among them were not only priests and religious, but also a large number of male and female laity, including children. In the Nagasaki region, believers kept their faith in hiding without a single priest for at least 220 years. In March 1865, Father Bernard Petitjean of the Paris Foreign Missions encountered the hidden Christians in Nagasaki. In 1873, when the prohibition against Christianity was lifted, the Paris Foreign Missions carried out mission work, establishing churches in various places, and inviting religious orders to start schools, hospitals, and other activities. Some of those churches are now World Heritage Sites. After the Pacific War, the Church developed further.
The history of Protestantism in Japan began in 1859 when missionaries from the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Reformed Church arrived in Nagasaki.
There were 1,909,757 Christians in Japan in 2019, 1.5% of the total population. However, the role of Christianity in Japanese culture and society is significant. The Catholic Church has three archdioceses and 14 dioceses. The Catholic population in 2020 was 435,083, 0.34% of the total population. In recent decades, the number has fluctuated, decreasing and increasing slightly. The number of foreign-national Catholics is not counted.
As a result of the declining and aging population, changes in the family environment, a weakening of the sense of faith and young peoples’ leaving the Church, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are decreasing. For this reason, we invite seminary students and priests from abroad.

1.5.2. Japanese Religions
The ancient Japanese religion is polytheistic and animistic Shinto. Confucianism and Buddhism were introduced from China through Korea in the 5th and 6th centuries. Confucianism influenced Japanese Shintoism, Buddhism, politics, and ways of thinking. In the Edo period (1603 – 1867), Confucianism and Buddhism were separated, and teachings of the neo-Confucian Cheng-Zhu and Yangming schools were adopted into politics.
Until 1868, when the Meiji government made national Shinto a spiritual pillar of the nation, it was a time of undifferentiated Shinto-Buddhist practice in which the Buddha and the gods were inseparable. Since the war, national Shinto is gone, but Shinto per se carries on. According to 2019 statistics, Shinto had 88,959,345 adherents and Buddhism had 84,835,110. The sum total is more than the entire population of the country. This is evidence that the Japanese devote themselves to the two religions.
People who do not believe in a particular religion or who call themselves atheists have a deep religious sense in their lives and participate in religious practices and events. Shinto values harmony, is relational and is symmetrical to Western philosophy and monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). There are no religious confrontations or conflicts. Catholicism plays an integral role in inter-religious dialogue.

1.6. Cultural Challenges

1.6.1. Historical Background
The introduction of religions and cultures from China and Korea, encounters with Christian missionaries from the 16th century onwards and interactions with other countries formed the values that have made today’s Japanese culture and social and economic development possible.

1.6.2. A Community Culture
A Japanese does not live so much as an individual but as a member of a community. The unique sense of community of the Japanese people seems to be due to living in an island country with a uniform environment and sensibilities, and very little contact with other countries. In such a community culture, common sensibilities, customs, and lifestyles are valued as “harmony,” the maintaining of accord and peace. Mutual communication is carried out tacitly and without confrontation.

1.6.3. Youth Culture
Until the early 1980s, young people whose behavior differed from the existing culture were called “tribals” and were likened to an alien ethnic group. Since then, youth culture has taken hold with the development of telecommunication and transportation networks. From the late 1990s, anime, manga, computer games and the Internet have spread beyond those generations. On the other hand, many Japanese cultural traditions are not being passed down to the younger generations.

1.7. Ecological Challenges
Immediately after the disaster at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, there seemed to be a growing interest in environmental issues and rapidly shifting to sustainable energy. However, since then, decommissioning work on nuclear power plants has not proceeded, and the logic of the economy has taken over.
Many people have given in to the current situation, and a backlash against environmental issues is spreading. This backlash is seen especially in insulting or ridiculing language and derision on the Internet.
The vast majority are reluctant to lower their current standard of living, and only a minority are active in environmental initiatives. Efforts directed to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are diffuse, so there is a risk that they will merely be for show. In Japan and within the Church, thoroughgoing efforts to address environmental issues are yet to come.

2. ANALYSIS — Are there causes that you can identify for the above?

2.1 The Social Situation
Since the end of World War II, Japanese society has made economic affluence its priority. It joined the ranks of developed countries and at one point became the world’s second largest economy after the United States. Meanwhile, people became accustomed to the idea that economic development was society’s priority and began to pay less attention to psychological and spiritual fulfillment. Without psychological and spiritual values, Japan has become a shrinking and super-aging society where it is difficult to obtain a sense of financial fulfillment. People wander in the dark because the foundational values of the social community are not the values they need to rely on.
The high relative poverty is largely due to two factors: (1) parents have no work, and salaries are low due to non-regular employment such as part-time jobs; (2) the increase in unmarried and single parents due to divorce. The many causes of the low birth rate include: an increase in those who do not marry or marry late; the lack of stability in employment leading to no prospects for the future; the high cost of raising children; and shortages of obstetricians, gynecologists and pediatricians. The government has not provided sufficiently for Japanese language education for foreign workers, for children’s education and for welfare.

2.2. The Political Situation
The Liberal Democratic Party, formed in 1955, was in power for 38 years before turning over governance to the opposition for about four years, but has since regained and kept power. With the economy sluggish, the government’s attitude of tossing policies directly related to protecting human life to the private sector is remarkable. However, “mutual aid” has collapsed and “self-help” is difficult in the sluggish economy because the local communities on which mutual aid is based are not functioning, especially in cities with large populations.

2.3. The Religious Situation
In Japan, “family religion” where the whole family followed the same religion for generations was common. Now more and more people do not even know what their family religion is, or do not care about a particular religion. Even so, those who have a religious bent are increasing. Many people are interested in religion, but in a sort of folk religion, and still tend to avoid organized religions. However, many people are drawn to spiritualism, for example, and visit churches as “power spots.” They basically are looking for self-satisfaction, and few come to baptism.
Due to the aging of priests and believers and the departure from the Church of young people, the Catholic Church is at a standstill in its evangelization and pastoral activities for lack of personnel and financial resources. Even when there is a desire to be involved in social issues such as the environment, systematic involvement is becoming impossible.
Faith formation not only for children but also for adults is insufficient. In particular, young men are not taught enough about marriage and family life.
The proportion of foreign believers is relatively large, but participation in liturgy is not easy when using different languages along with Japanese. Children who do not have their own language to do so do not develop the ability to think deeply about things.
New religious movements that originated in Latin America are becoming popular among foreigners who were not interested in them when in their home country. But faced with the challenges of unfamiliar Japanese life, many have found such groups helpful and caring. Receiving support (translation, assistance in obtaining visas, etc.) from such groups, they leave the Catholic Church and thus promote the groups’ expansion.

3. CHURCH RESPONSE – What has been the Church’s response to these realities? How has the Church contributed for the development of society in general?

3.1. The Church’s Contribution to Society
It is worth noting that the minority Catholic Church has played an outsized role in the development of Japanese society. The Church made no small contribution to Japanese society in the fields of social welfare and education during the Christian period, the Meiji era and the postwar reconstruction. There are many people who have a Christian spirit engraved in their hearts through such education and social welfare activities. Catholic educational institutions generally have good reputations and their influence is not small. Catholic support for victims of natural disasters and peace activities are also highly valued.
However, as the development of society has reached a certain level, more organizations offer similar services and more legal regulations must be followed, it has become more difficult to make such contributions. An added difficulty for Catholic schools is that as priests and religious have decreased there are schools that are Catholic in name only because there are no Catholics involved in their operation.
Drawing close to and accompanying people in society was and still is one of the characteristics of the Christian community. One example is devotion to accompanying foreign residents. It can be an opportunity to win trust for the work of the Church. The Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move organizes seminars for the training of religious and laity to confront the unjust situation of refugees, migrants and foreign workers, to protect their human rights and justice, and to demand that the Japanese government enact better laws for them.
It is becoming difficult in small parishes of the elderly to play the social role of the Church. On the diocesan level, committees and social outreach remain active through the efforts of the committees and individuals, despite small numbers of people. Some dioceses have established “Open Houses” where South Americans and Filipinos trained as leaders can provide mutual support. Their activities include supporting refugees and migrants in immigration detention centers and bear much fruit. In addition, this process of accepting newcomers has been initiated in all parishes.
The Church continues to work in solidarity with other organizations, religious groups and civic groups on matters that are difficult to respond to on Catholicism’s own. However, the consciousness of average Catholics is low.

3.2. Formation of Church Communities
The cancellation of public Masses due to the pandemic has made it clear that the parish plays a role as a place to disseminate information on people’s health and economic conditions. Thanks to the work of parishes, pastors and teams of parishioners, online access to Mass, catechesis, the rosary, etc. has spread. So that they might participate in online prayer, many elderly people are learning to use smartphones and computers.
Marriage courses are important in a situation where more and more young people do not believe marriage is permanent.
In providing pastoral care for foreign believers, it is time to move ahead as communities, focusing on use of the Japanese language even while using multiple other languages. Special celebrations, the Sacrament of Penance, funerals, etc. still should be carried out in the native language of foreign believers to the extent possible.

3.3. The Evangelization of Japanese Society
Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the Church has engaged in locally rooted volunteer activities through Caritas. This grassroots service testifies to evangelical values for many who had no contact with Christianity. This is the way forward in planting a Christian spirit.

4. CHALLENGES – Keeping in mind the situation and the Church’s response, what are the challenges you are facing both internal and external? In the midst of these challenges what are your immediate concerns? What are the strengths?

4.1. The Current Situation
To mitigate the decline in births and address the problems of a super-aged society with few children, it is important to understand the fundamental attitude toward marriage of young people, providing pastoral guidance to help them understand that marriage is joining with another to journey together through life.

4.2. Society
Initiatives to respect human rights, and promote peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons are two important issues that the Japanese Church has been involved in. In response to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Japan in 1981, the following year the Japanese Church prayed for peace, reflected on peace and acted for peace from August 6 (anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima) to the 15th (the end of the war). This “Ten Days of Prayer for Peace” is an annual event of the Catholic Church in Japan. The Church also invites the general public to join the prayers for peace and other activities such as promoting ratification of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
In response to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan is creating a basic policy to promote environmental issues. This not only responds to the pressing problems facing humanity but will also help raise awareness of the need to create “a Church that goes out,” conscious of the need to understand and live faith in everyday life.

4.3. Challenges within the Church
Traditional Christian families are no longer able to communicate their faith to their children.
Frequently in Japan not everyone in a family is Christian, and so inter-religious dialogue often takes place in the home. For this reason, more personalized pastoral care is needed to support each believer’s path of faith. Therefore, community is important, especially when considering lone Christians in Japanese society where Christianity is considered a peripheral entity. Strengthening the sense of community is a challenge, especially in parishes.
Within the Church, there is a strong desire to continue the traditional ways of doing things, and there is little enthusiasm to try anything new. While it is important to realize “a Church that goes out” as an attitude that embodies the “open church” that the Second Vatican Council aimed for, unfortunately, young people who yearn for the traditions (Latin liturgy, etc.) that predate the Council, and a generation who like a passive Church which focuses on deepening individual faith are increasing. It is essential to look back at the history of the Church that led to the Second Vatican Council and learn the modern meaning from it.
Approaching young people is also an important issue. We must create a space for the Church to draw near to those who suffer in their social lives, a place to learn how to listen to them, a space where they can share their dreams and concerns and meet Jesus and the gospel. This is an essential mission for the Church.
In parishes, the declining birthrate, aging congregations, the resulting deterioration of church finances and the shortage of priests are major concerns.
The presence of women, including religious, is a great force in the mission of the Church. Today with the number of religious declining, diocesan and national organizations are very important. Members of international orders and congregations able to speak the languages of people from various countries (e.g., English, Vietnamese, Spanish, Portuguese) can deal directly with immigrants. However, in their first few years in Japan, they must take time to study the Japanese language and gain a footing in Japanese culture and customs.

4. 4 Evangelization
The Catholic Church in Japan held a National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE I & II) in 1987 and 1993 but has yet to successfully convey the gospel of Christ to society or even the Church. The proclamation of the gospel by all believers is the challenge for the future, but the first step is to evangelize the believers themselves by creating strong bonds that bring the Word of God to life. In order to do so, it is necessary that Catholics be trained to take on the new challenges that reality presents.
Outside the Church, distrust of religious groups is strong, and it is often questioned whether service is actually motivated by an intention to proselytize. Secularization permeates Japanese culture, but some people come to the Church in search of new answers to religious or spiritual matters. Therefore, it seems necessary to deepen religious “experience,” that is, a faith experience that goes beyond mere catechism. There is no doubt that there are many people in the consumer society who want to connect with the spiritual dimension of their lives. The challenge is to create a path that responds to this quest.
The younger generation needs experience beyond merely filling roles in their parishes; they need to experience the joy of freely serving the poor, the outcast and the elderly.

4.5. Inter-Religious Dialogue
Inter-religious dialogue must be promoted in Japan. First, we must not be ignorant of the great religious traditions that continue to convey religious experiences and create values that form the foundations of our lives as human beings. They should be evaluated and respected. In addition to sharing with representatives or experts of various religious traditions, there is collaboration among various churches and religious groups coexisting in a particular area. Collaboration aims to promote joy-filled and active coexistence among people and organizations in the region. Finally, inter-religious dialogue takes place in families where all the members do not belong to the same religion. Knowing how to respect and accept each other and trying to support the religious journey of other members of the family who do not belong to the same tradition is fundamental to maintaining harmony in the family.

4.6. Environmental Issues
Ecological education takes place in educational institutions such as child-care facilities, kindergartens, and schools as well as in nursing homes, etc. This includes practical activities such as collecting and cleaning up trash, recycling paper and cardboard, and interacting with nature. Parishes should become centers for fostering this sort of ecological awareness. There are also specific ecological initiatives based on a faith perspective found in the word of God and the teaching of the Church. These can lead to prayer (including prayer with other religions), training camps, and cleanup action in the sea and mountains that are all practical parts of an ecological conversion. Projects organized by local governments to protect nature provide an opportunity to create good relations with local people and improve the human environment.

4.7. Other Matters
Pope Francis’ visit certainly provided Japan with a better look not only at the Catholic Church, but at Christianity in general. It resonated with the whole of Japan. After the visit, social media reaction was very positive, and the pope’s messages reached many people beyond the Church. There was a great positive response to the pope’s call to create a culture of dialogue and his clear position on nuclear weapons. He made it clear that not only the use of nuclear weapons, but even their possession, is immoral. In addition, he repeatedly referred to the situation of immigrants and touched on other issues that have had a negative impact on Japanese society such as the search for meaning in life, loneliness (especially among the elderly living alone) and the importance of the family. For Christians, it was a powerful experience of fellowship with the Universal Church and a powerful invitation to witness to the joy of the gospel.
The Japanese Church faces a shortage of priestly and religious vocations. One of the causes is the decrease in the number of young people, but this points out the urgent need of a pastoral response to young people. The Japanese Church appreciates the dispatch of missionaries from other Asian countries and their generous contributions. People-to-people exchanges among Churches in Asia strengthen the sense of the universality of the Church. In fact, the number of priests is more than sufficient for the number of Catholics in Japan. Therefore, the “missionary dimension” of priests’ work must be strengthened. To that end, we need to invite them to look beyond the community of Christians for a way to reach the hearts of those waiting for the gospel. It means transforming the model from “administrator” to “pastor” and from “pastor” to “missionary.”

5. NEW PATHS – How do you perceive a new way of being Church in your situation? How can the Church contribute more to a better Asia?

5.1. A Multinational Church
Foreign laity play no role in the Church. We must instill the awareness that the Church in Japan is not a Japanese Church, but a multinational one. The strength of the Church in Japan is the presence and hidden potential of believers from abroad. When foreign believers play an active role, the Church will be revitalized and international awareness will increase. By actively interacting with them, we may be able to better see international issues, especially, new ways of interacting with Asia.

5.2. Being Church with the Younger Generations
We need to be more interested in what the younger generations think, discern together with them through dialogue and find the ways in which we must move forward. If we fail to meet challenges together with the younger generations, the Church will die. This does not mean dumping everything on the younger generation; it means promoting intergenerational dialogue and continuing to walk together while entrusting leadership to the younger generations.

5.3. Reorganizing Education
There is almost no cooperation in Japan between Catholic schools and dioceses and parishes. Since Catholic schools have few Christians among their faculty and students, it is a challenge is to maintain their identity. Therefore, we want to explore new possibilities for schools, parishes and church activities to work together. For example, Laudato Si’ presents a number of environmental issues that can become opportunities for cooperation.
Educational facilities should be reorganized so that schools can interact with poor children. Religious congregations should cooperate to set up centers based on Christian values and standards to train non-Christian teachers who work in Catholic schools.
The same is true in other fields such as nursing homes, clinics and hospitals.
As the number of religious decreases and ages and management is increasingly turned over to trained laypeople, and since the aim is to convey the Christian spirit, it is necessary to continually provide lifelong formation for new workers.

5.4. A Church Open to society
The Church does not exist solely for Catholics or those who want to become Christians, and thus it cannot simply maintain the current pastoral system. We must seek new ways to evangelize.
We seek to be a Church that:

  • is open to the reality of the local region and community;
  • meets the concrete needs of people;
  • accepts people, including the needy, the disabled and sexual minorities, as they are;
  • provides support to foreign residents and other people who are at the bottom of society;
  • welcomes multinational believers, and those who are suffering;
  • responds to the spiritual needs of seafarers in port;
  • protects all life through activities for peace and environmental conservation.

In all this, we do not use abstract criteria to look at people but look at the stage they are at in their process of maturation. Each person’s level of maturity must be respected and accompanied.
To be a Church that is open to society in this way, it is necessary to encourage the formation of believers to be small, outer-directed communities.

5.5. Participation in Inter-Religious Dialogue
More people must become involved in responding to the crises of the world through ecumenical involvement with other Churches and cooperation with other religions. More than discussions at the doctrinal level, this should involve uniting in acts of love and mercy.

5.6. Asia-wide Collaboration
For the Catholic Church, the challenge is to work together in Asia as a whole, being a Church that walks with the peoples of Asia. As FABC documents repeatedly remind us, the Church in Asia is sent by the Lord to walk with the peoples of Asia.
Therefore, there are four important aspects of Church life in the Asian context.

  1. Learning – Believing that God has always accompanied the journeys of the peoples of Asia, we will learn with gratitude. This is especially important against the backdrop of religious traditions that exist in many Asian countries and regions.
  2. Sharing – Giving each other what we have received will contribute to the spiritual and human growth of the entire Church in Asia, and each will be able to grow in their own divine experience. To that end, for example, we will use online systems to strengthen dialogue in various fields at the Asian level. We can make opportunities to pray together in the context of the current situation in Asia that includes such challenges as human trafficking, environmental issues, refugees, migrant labor, etc.
  3. Confronting – Standing as disciples of Jesus with the poor and those driven to the periphery and trusting in the Lord and his love, we will confront the powerful.
  4. Building an inclusive society – We will respond to God’s dreams for God’s children by serving the people of Asia alongside people of good will. Where there are ideological differences, unstable relations between countries, economic disparities, and religious differences the Church will work as closely as possible with others to influence political and economic areas in Asia. Even in education and Catholics’ evangelization work, we must have the consciousness that the whole of Asia is one area.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
September 2021