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Japan Catholic News

June 2006


Mass Guide The Oita diocese has issued a booklet to help the 1,700 Filipinos who are members of the diocese participate in the Mass in Japanese.

The pamphlet, Mass Guide, includes the prayers of the Mass in Japanese characters and Roman script, English and Tagalog in parallel columns on facing pages. This layout allows participants to follow the Mass prayers in any of the languages while being able to give responses in whichever language is being used to celebrate the Mass. The 34-page booklet is designed to be easily carried.

Filipino Catholics are about one third the number of Japanese Catholics in the diocese and until recently they had their own special communities for worship and pastoral care. However, the diocese is making efforts to become more open to the diversity of its members and so the special communities are being phased out in favor of having Filipinos become members of their local parishes.

Bishop Ryoji Miyahara of Oita, commenting on the publication of the pamphlet, said, "We prepared this booklet because (as Scripture teaches) there is neither Jew nor Greek nor Roman, but all should be able to participate together in the Mass regardless of nationality."

"There are churches where Filipinos are among the core members, but there are other places where they and Japanese Catholics don't come together," he added. "I hope this booklet will be useful in providing pastoral care."

The diocese intends to continue providing Masses in Tagalog as a way of showing respect for the culture and language of each person while emphasizing as well the building of "a Church without nationalities" in local parishes.

Mass Guide is available from the Oita diocese for ¥100 per copy. For information or to order copies, call 097-532-3397.


TEACHERS FROM CATHOLIC COLLEGE VOLUNTEER IN INDONESIA QUAKE ZONE A week after a May 27 earthquake claimed some 5,700 victims on the Indonesian island of Java, two nursing teachers from Tokyo's Seibo University went there to provide care for medical personnel affected by the disaster.

Describing the situation at Bethesda Hospital in Yogyakarta where even storerooms were being used to house patients, Chizu Usui, 54, said, "Some of the staff were dead, others had lost their homes. It reminded me of Kobe." She was referring to the 1995 Hanshin earthquake that caused more than 6,000 deaths, most of them in Kobe.

Usui, an assistant professor who specializes in disaster relief, was accompanied by Yoshiko Chiba, a 38-year-old teacher who had previous experience working in Indonesia.

According to Chiba, "The expression on the faces of nurses who had suffered was very determined."

Sumiko Tsuhako, 57, is the coordinator of the project to send nursing volunteers from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary-run school to the quake zone. According to her, people at the school wondered if in the face of the disaster there were anything that they could do that would exemplify the school's motto, "Through love to truth."

"In any case, we had to move quickly," said Tsuhako.

A decision was made to provide emotional support to nurses in Java, and university authorities decided to treat the teachers' time away as an official trip.

Usui commented that an important aspect of modern disaster relief is providing care for emergency workers. "In a disaster, care for those who are active is very important," she said.

An emergency collection at Seibo and related institutions brought in ¥600,000 as well as medicines, towels and other items that were packaged as "Love, Care Bags" that the two volunteers took with them to Indonesia to distribute to medical personnel who had lost family members or homes or who had been injured.

TEACHERS FROM CATHOLIC COLLEGE VOLUNTEER IN INDONESIA QUAKE ZONE Usui and Chiba brought 50 of the bags with them to Indonesia. However, when they arrived, they found that 100 bags were needed, so they repacked the supplies to make the necessary number.

A second objective was to assist in communications. The Seibo team alerted other Japanese medical volunteers to needs outside Yogyakarta. According to Usui, more people were affected in the rural areas than in the city.

"The farming villages were destroyed," she said.

The volunteers also conducted earthquake-preparedness training sessions, stressing the importance of such steps as taking shelter under tables or desks in the event of a quake. Such measures are not well-known in Indonesia.

This was the first time that Seibo has sent teaching staff to assist in disaster relief.

Tsuhako, who organized the activity, had met a German nurse who worked at the Bethesda Hospital in central Java when the two took part in a study session just before the earthquake. Just after returning from the session, Tsuhako received a phone call from the nurse, asking for assistance.

"The problem now is what to do from now on," said Usui.

The number of people who need rehabilitation is large and it is still unclear how much assistance the Indonesian government will provide. Few patients can afford to pay for their care and the Bethesda Hospital is already finding it difficult to feed them.

Seibo will continue to provide assistance to the hospital. For information about helping, telephone 03-3950-0171.


The education of women was never a priority anywhere in Afghanistan, which five years after the defeat of the Taliban government by American, British and other troops is still struggling to rebuild its economy and maintain law and order. A Japanese Catholic, Satoko Kitahara, is determined that even a remote village in Badakhshan should have a girls' school.

Kitahara, 37, a parishioner of the Kojimachi Church in Tokyo, is presently on the staff of the United Nations World Food Organization. She said her interest in building a school was spurred by seeing the children's eagerness to study.

"It was a delight listening to the dreams they had for their own future. I decided I would do something to make the dreams come true," she said.

The school in Rog, Badakhshan province, will be state-run. Rog is 90 kilometers from Faizabad, which is an hour from Kabul by plane. The drive through the mountains from Faizabad to Rog takes six to nine hours.

Kitahara, originally attached to World Vision Japan, moved to UNICEF on March 2002 and was engaged on one of their educational projects in Badakhshan.

In 2003, the Afghan provisional government and international organizations began a move to restore educational facilities throughout the country. In Rog girls began to attend classes but they had no school of their own. Islamic practice demands that girls and boys be educated separately, but having no building of their own the girls had to borrow classrooms in a boys' school and take lessons in private houses.

The board of education in Rog had no money to build a school but when Kitahara suggested a fund-raising campaign they went along with the idea.

"Even the parents became interested. It was an opportunity not to be missed," she said.

In order to avoid the winter months when building is impossible, they put forward their plans and began building last autumn. Their goal is a school for girls from six to 18 years of age in 12 classes of 40 students each. By adopting a two shift system, they hope to educate 1,000 girls. Fundraising to complete the building and furnish it is now under way.

The project has been named "Choronay," which in the local Dali dialect word means "Why say it can't be done?"

Friends of Kitahara in Japan are also pushing forward with the fundraising. She holds report meetings with them every time she returns to Japan.

"People's interest in Afghanistan has begun to flag recently, so although our aim is to raise enough money to finish and equip the school, we also want to revive people's interest in Afghanistan," she said.

Among her supporters in Japan are fellow catechumens from the doctrine class at Sophia University with whom she prepared for baptism.

One of them, Akira Yamamoto,67, (Zushi Church, Kanagawa prefecture) said, "Of all those who were baptized together at that time, Ms. Kitahara seemed the most frail and delicate. It is amazing that she can tackle something like this. I have a feeling she represents a lot of us here in Japan who wish we had the same courage. That is my reason for helping."

For information about helping Project Choronay, call 090-3244-4469.


Sunday Mass Attendance The secretariate of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Japan has announced the 2005 Catholic Church statistics. When compared with the figures for 2000 there is an increase of 7,560 Catholics, while the number attending Sunday Mass has decreased by 3,738.

The statistics announced each year are based on figures compiled by each diocese from responses they receive from every parish. The figures are calculated at the end of December.

According to the report, the total number of registered Catholics in Japan is 452,800, comprising 0.36 percent of the population. Nagasaki archdiocese, with 4.41 percent of the population Catholic, has the largest proportion of Catholics. In every other diocese Catholics constitute less than one percent of the total population.

The number of people attending Sunday Mass (apart from Christmas and Easter) in Japan stands at 122,054. This is a slight increase on the previous year, but a drop of 22,000 compared with 10 years ago.

Baptisms The number of people receiving baptism continued to decrease for the fifth consecutive year, and when compared with adult baptisms, the number of children's baptisms shows a larger decrease.

In February of last year the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (J-CARM) announced that there were 565,712 Catholics of foreign nationality not included in the official Church statistics. This figure was calculated by taking the number of registered foreigners of each nationality released by the Ministry of Justice and using the percentage of Catholics among the total population of each country to estimate the number of Catholics. When this number is added on to the number of Japanese Catholics in the official Church statistics the total comes to over one million Catholics in Japan.

However, according to Sister Yukie Nogami of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, secretary of J-CARM, the figure in the latest report is "not inaccurate." Church statistics show the total number of people registered at churches, and do not show the number of people who are unregistered. There are many countries that do not have the practice of recording registrations and movements of Catholics apart from the baptismal register.

Clergy It is also said that the number of Catholics of foreign nationality announced by the commission is inaccurate, since it relies upon the figures for foreigners released by the Ministry for Justice. However, there are also foreigners who do not register with the government. The Church statistics also sometimes include in the number of Japanese Catholics non-Japanese people who have registered at parishes.

The largest difference the 2005 statistics show when compared with the 2000 statistics is in the number of priests, which has decreased by 10 percent to 1,516, a drop of 178 in five years. One hundred and forty-five, or 80 percent of this decrease is in the number of foreign priests. The number of sisters has fallen by 351 (a decrease of five percent) and the number of brothers by 49 (a decrease of 20 percent). The number of parishes has fallen by 14, leaving a total of 801.


SEMINAR IN NIIGATA LOOKS AT PASTORAL CARE OF FOREIGNERS The Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move held the Tokyo Regional Niigata Seminar on the pastoral care of Catholics of foreign nationality at the Nigata Catholic Center May 16-17. Over 40 people participated in the seminar that covered all matters relating to the pastoral care of Catholics from abroad.

According to Father Tsutomu Sato of the Niigata diocese, one of the seminar organizers, "It is quite usual now for foreign women to come to marry men in rural communities. Some foreign wives have been living here for over 20 years."

One of the speakers at the seminar was Professor Itaru Nagasaka of Niigata University of International and Information Studies. Nagasaka spoke about the history and recent trends in the emigration policy of the Philippine government, explaining the background to its efforts to send people to work in foreign countries.

A former director of the Joetsu Public Health Center, Mikiko Fujiwara, spoke about her work with Franciscan Father Mario Canducci during the 1990's, caring for pregnant foreign women. She also talked of how the Church later cooperated with the local government in assisting foreigners in the Joetsu region.

Reflecting on the recent work of foreign Catholics in Niigata, Fr. Sato said, "In sparsely populated areas where there are many elderly people, women with a high level of education have come in from the Philippines, Korea and China, and while rearing their children have started many new activities. They have taken on leadership roles along with Japanese and are spreading a new culture among Japanese people."


The Society of the Divine Word (SVD), parent organization of Nanzan Gakuen, is planning to open an elementary school in Nagoya in April 2008. The plan was approved by the board of directors and was announced by board president Fr. Michael Calmano SVD on May 19.

The school is to be built on a site adjoining the junior and senior high schools for boys run in connection with Nanzan University. The new school is tentatively being called Nanzan Gakuen Elementary School.

The school's educational policy will be founded in a Christian world view and will concentrate on character building and the inculcation of respect for the individual. The coeducational school will have three classes of 30 students in each year for a full enrollment of 540 students.

Aichi prefecture has only one privately-run elementary school, so the new school is expected to give parents a wider choice.

Takeru Yasuda, head of the planning department of the Nanzan Gakuen school corporation, said that Nanzan had an elementary school from 1936 to1941, but it was closed with the promulgation of the National School Law. Post-war records show that the board was thinking of reopening the elementary school in 1951, and the present plan fits in with the founder's wishes for a comprehensive educational system.

The year 2007 will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Nanzan Gakuen and the centenary of the first SVD mission in Japan. Besides completing the final link in the comprehensive educational scheme, the new school is considered a fitting memorial to the two anniversaries.


Rika Fujiya, 39, of the Kudamatsu Church in Yamaguchi prefecture has worked in Palestine since 1995.

"Palestine," she said, "is a place where awkward problems abound. Eleven years have gone by without my noticing, and there is still so much to be done."

Fujiya is on-the-spot survey officer for the Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC). Local people are hired to carry out the actual projects and Fujiya is the only JVC employee there. She calls herself an "odd-jobber," one who does whatever needs doing.

The refugee camp where she works is for Palestinians and the JVC has been helping out in the Handara Culture Center there ever since it opened.

"We have a children's library and a computer room. We give supplementary school lessons and dance lessons. We even have a soccer team," she explained.

"A group of mothers does embroidery to augment their family income, and we keep hoping the government will eventually take over the running of the center."

"The refugee camp is close to an Israeli army base, so in order that the children can play without fear and at their ease we borrowed a site in a neighboring town last year and held a summer camp there for our children. They are looking forward to going there again this summer."

"The children are undernourished, so in collaboration with other NGOs we distribute biscuits and milk to them six days a week. These are produced in the West Bank district so it is a boost for business there also."

"On the West Bank, Israel is still building its dividing wall, with the result that Palestine is being broken up into smaller segments. Movement is restricted and educational and medical facilities are limited. JVC is planning to do something about medical care in the future."

"We hear," she said, "that the per capita income in Israel is ten times the income in Palestine. In such an unbalanced situation it is hard to find fair solutions. These are problems that can only be solved locally and I keep hoping that if only we had peace, and the people could go about their lives without fear, the poor and the underprivileged could gain some strength."

Fujiya said she grew up listening to stories of people who lived full lives in poor circumstances. In junior high school he went for a home stay with a family in the Philippines. During her college years she took part in a program organized by the Visitation Sisters at a medical clinic in a Philippine village. Even after taking up employment in the Hiroshima Health Office, she spent her summer holidays in India working with the Missionaries of Charity.

Fujiya said that she wondered how she could spend longer periods working overseas, and thought of the numerous NGOs. Since then, no matter which NGO he was attached too, she always ended up in Palestine. At present she returns to Japan three times a year and continues her post-graduate studies at a university here.

In elections for the Palestinian parliament last January, Hamas, upholders of fundamentalist Islam, won an overwhelming victory. Since then, the U.S. and the EU have cut back on aid to Palestine, but Fujiya said, "If aid is cut off completely, the situation could become very dangerous indeed."

"Granted something must be done to deter suicide bombing, but if aid is cut off," she added, "it is the poor and the weak who will suffer. The situation must be weighed and considered from all sides."

The number of undernourished children has increased since April, Fujiya said. "Even the adults need some supplement to their diet."

"It is easy," she said, "to be interested in these problems at the political level, but the ones who take action are the common folk at ground level. These are the ones you must think of."

Beginning this summer she intends to focus most of her activity on Japan, telling people of her experiences so far.


The renowned American singer Michael Jackson, in Tokyo to attend a music prize-giving ceremony, paid a visit to Seibi Home, a large Catholic children's home in Kita-ku, Tokyo, on Sunday evening, May 28. He was welcomed by approximately 140 children, Sisters and members of the staff.

Making his first trip to Japan since being found innocent of charges of sexually molesting children in June of last year, this was Jackson's first appearance in public.

According to the vice principal, Hideto Yamamoto (54, a member of Kita-Urawa Church, Saitama diocese), the first news of Jackson's visit was a telephone call to the principal, Sister Kiyoko Mito of the Salesian Sisters.

"The principal received a telephone call on Friday, May 26. 'It seems he's coming' she told me. 'Michael who?' everyone was asking. 'He couldn't be coming here,' they were all saying. After Mass on Sunday I contacted Sister Mito, and she confirmed he was coming. All the staff were asked to come to work urgently."

The children in the home, who range from two to 18 years of age, played music on the koto (Japanese harp), and performed traditional Japanese dances. Although the other children were supposed to sit watching the performers, "they were all looking back at Michael, and taking pictures. There was great excitement," said Yamamoto. At the end, all of the children joined Jackson on the stage for a commemorative photograph.

Nozomi Nakajima, one of the staff members who played the koto with the children, said that when they finished playing Jackson came over to the children and talked with them through an interpreter

As Nakajima described the conversation, "When he asked them, 'Do you sing 'Sukiyaki' (the English title of a popular Japanese song) the children replied, 'We prefer yakiniku (grilled meat) to sukiyaki (boiled slices of beef).'"


NEWLY ORDAINED PRIESTS OFFER MASS AT LEPROSY SANATORIUM TO THANK PATIENTS FOR SUPPORTSaburo Baba is chairman of the Aitoku-kai association of the Catholic patients at the National Tamazen-Seien Leprosy Sanatorium in Higashi Muraya, Tokyo, has made it his personal apostolate as a Catholic with Hansen's disease to offer his prayers and sufferings in union with the passion of Christ for the intention of vocations to the priesthood.

This spring, in thanksgiving for Baba's support and prayers, four newly-ordained priests together with the members of the Aitoku-kai, the pastors of the nearby Akitsu and Kiyose parishes and 50 Catholics from those parishes celebrated Mass in the chapel of the sanatorium May 24.

The four priests, who had been ordained three weeks earlier, are Fathers Satoshi Akaiwa (Tokyo archdiocese), Touru Funayama (Sendai diocese), Yasuo Watanabe (Tokyo archdiocese) and Hiroyuki Yamada (Yokohama diocese). This is the first time that newly-ordained diocesan priests have celebrated Mass at the sanatorium.

Baba, offering encouragement to the new priests, said, "It certainly was not a joy to be afflicted with Hansen's disease, but being able to bear this disease as a cross and to offer this cross as a prayer for priestly vocations has been a joy."

After Mass the four priests visited Catholic patients who were not able to attend Mass. They distributed Holy Communion and gave their blessings to each patient.

Among the patients was 84-year-old Yoshiharu Tokoro, previous chairman of the Aitoku-kai, who is now suffering from incurable cancer. After celebrating his birthday on May 1, Tokoro's consciousness began to wane. Turning his pain from cancer into a prayer for priests, he said, "I will hold on until I can meet the new priests."

NEWLY ORDAINED PRIESTS OFFER MASS AT LEPROSY SANATORIUM TO THANK PATIENTS FOR SUPPORT2When the priests came to visit him, Tokoro pushed himself up a bit and received Communion. Then showing his joy at the priests' visit, he said to them in his characteristic rough Tokyo dialect, "Stand firm as priests. Stay on the train. Don't ever jump off and quit the priesthood!"

In response, Fr. Watanabe, in a voice choking with emotion, gave Mr. Tokoro his blessing and said, "It is thanks to all your prayers that I have been able to become a priest. It is thanks to you I am here now. I am deeply moved. I want to make this day my heart's starting day as a priest."

Following this, the four priests plan to go to Shizuoka Prefecture, where, on June 25 they will celebrate Mass with Catholic patients at Kouyama Fukusei Hospital and Suruga Sanitorium.


Father Takashi Motoyanagi (44), a Yokohama diocesan priest, returned to Japan in March after spending three years working in the diocese of Kotido in the northeastern part of Uganda in East Africa.

After six months language study in neighboring Kenya, Fr. Motoyanagi spent three years working at the cathedral parish of Kotido diocese. During this time he was also in charge of four chapels in the parish of Loyoro, 40 kilometers to the north.

More than half of the approximately 10,000 people who live in Kotido city are Catholics. Approximately 1,000 people live in Loyoro. Six years ago Comboni missionaries from Italy began working there, and more than 70 percent of the people are Catholic.

"However, since most of them do not come to Mass, I never thought there were so many," said Fr. Motoyanagi.

"Perhaps it is because of polygamy, but there are very few church weddings," he added. "Nor are there any funerals. Touching a corpse is taboo. But things are changing, and people are gradually burying their dead."

The priest said that in Loyoro, more than pastoral work, he was doing civil administration-type work. In villages where there was only a school and a clinic, people came to the church for advice about disputes and physical attacks. The priest was called in as a mediator. He also had to take injured people to clinics in other villages.

People in the area where Fr. Motoyanagi worked spoke English and Karimojon. It normally takes three months to learn to speak Karimojon, but Fr. Motoyanagi studied it for only one month, until the Italian priest who was teaching him was murdered.

Cattle are continually stolen in that area and this causes much tribal conflict. The Italian priest had become caught up in one of these disputes. People put their cattle out to graze during the rainy season, and cultivate the fields during the dry season. They lead a semi-agricultural and semi-pastoral life. Cattle are a symbol of wealth.

According to the priest, more efficient methods of livestock breeding and farming, along with literacy education are necessary. But the Catholic Church is the only organization providing assistance.

Fr. Motoyanagi observed, "Security is a problem, so aid organizations will not go there."

Troops are stationed in some areas, but most places are unprotected. It is easy to acquire guns and the different ethnic groups have a history of fighting each other, making reconciliation difficult. Mediation efforts on the part of the Catholic Church bring about some peace, but no one knows how long it can last, said the priest. If public safety were stable, Fr. Motoyanagi said, the riches of the natural environment could draw tourists.

Fr. Motoyanagi himself received threats once. He went into hiding, but did not leave the country.

"I felt there was meaning in continuing to stay there. I believed I was being used for something," he said.

People he met were surprised when he told them he was a Japanese priest.

"The image people have of Japan is corporations and people cannot see individual faces. So from that point of view I suppose there was meaning in my being there."

While working as a lay missionary in Kenya, Fr. Motoyanagi felt called to the priesthood. He was ordained for the Yokohama diocese in 1995. He said he always thought, "If I become a priest, I would like to return to Africa once more." He is the first priest from a Japanese diocese sent to Africa.

Commenting on what Japan's Catholics can do for the people he served in Uganda, Fr. Motoyanagi said, "I would like people to know what is actually happening now in Africa."

He continued, "When people show interest, it encourages the people over there. They do not feel abandoned."


The Catholic Weekly has begun a series of occasional articles that will trace the development of a new parish in Joho, Ibaragi prefecture. The series will look at the process and challenges involved in founding a new community. The following is the first article in the series.

When Sister Mitsue Shirahama (59) of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity approached Bishop Daiji Tani of Saitama diocese with a suggestion that the diocese open a new parish in Ibaragi prefecture, the bishop answered, "It would be a good idea to think about that!"

That was in the spring of 2005. Sr. Shirahama suggested that a church be built there when the city of Joso would merge with the town of Kyuishige in January 2006. According to the nun, when she discussed her idea with other members of her congregation, their surprised reaction was, "Building a new church in Japan is unusual."

Sr. Shirahama began to work in Saitama diocese in 2000. A Brazilian of Japanese descent, she went to Kyuishige to work among other Brazilians living in the area after one of the leaders of a basic community invited her, saying, "there are many Brazilians and we hold liturgies of the Word, so do come!"

Later they found a priest to celebrate Mass with them, but this stopped after two years. Since April of last year Father Olmes Milani (60) of the Scalabrini Missionaries comes from Tokyo to help. Since then, the community, which meets in the local public hall, has settled at between 80 and 100 Brazilians who gather when Mass is offered.

" Use of the public hall is decided by lottery, so there are times when we cannot use it," said Sr. Shirahama. "People wish to be able to hold Bible study meetings and prayer meetings on weekdays too, and I told Bishop Tani about this."

Bishop Tani presented Sr. Shirahama's idea about a new church at the diocesan pastoral meeting and other places last Spring, and received a generally favorable response.

An investigation by the diocese has shown that the southern part of Ibaragi prefecture is an area where the population of both migrants and Japanese is increasing, and it is possible to acquire land there.

The diocesan chancellor, Deacon Sadato Yabuki (67), said that in the distribution of parishes there is a vacuum in that area. Japanese Catholics living there go to churches in Shimodate, Tsukuba, Tsuchiura and other places.

The bishop's counselors met in July last year and in their report stated they were considering the proposal that a church be built in the area because of the increase in the overall population and of that of Catholics.

Sr. Shirahama and Deacon Yabuki carried out a study of the area and submitted a report to the counselor's December meeting.

According to the chancellor, the diocese is aiming to begin construction in the spring of 2008 and their plans will be incorporated into the pastoral/missionary strategy of the diocese.

The deacon said, "Since we are trying to streamline diocesan activities, the bishop is not thinking of building a large church. He wants to care for small communities and build churches where they are needed."

The diocese will purchase land and Deacon Yabuki and the diocesan office have begun a search for a suitable site. In April, a newly ordained deacon, Masataka Nagazawa (52) took responsibility for construction of the church, and planning continues with Sr. Shirahama and the others involved.

The Scalabrini Missionaries, who are based in Tokyo, have informally agreed to send a Brazilian priest who will take charge of pastoral care. The Japanese and Brazilian Catholics' dream of their own church is gradually becoming a reality.

How will the construction of the new church progress in this era of a shortage of priests and greying Catholics? The Catholic Weekly intends to follow the plan's progress and keep readers informed.

"Nippon Notes"by William Grimm

TOKYO (UCAN) -- I've noticed a few people reading the Japanese translation of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code on trains here in Tokyo, and there are some exhibits in town at museums and elsewhere about Leonardo da Vinci. I assume the exhibits are meant to be extra advertising for the film version of the novel, which has opened in Japan.

Whether or not the book and film are a financial success in Japan remains to be seen, though the film distributor is planning a three-month run in theaters around the country and obviously expects a big audience.

I have read the book and found it only moderately interesting, poorly written and, of course, wildly inaccurate. But then, it's fiction, and in a genre -- murder mysteries -- that I do not usually read. Perhaps it is a good example of a murder mystery, and I just do not have enough experience in reading them to recognize a good one.

I do not plan to see the movie, partly because of taste and partly because reviewers have panned it, but mostly because I do not want to further enrich people who are making money off of a parody of things that are important to me, the main one being truth.

Though bishops and other Church leaders in some other countries have called for boycotts or have petitioned, sometimes successfully, to have the film banned in their countries, the Japanese bishops have not made any public declarations about the book or the movie.

I do not know whether this is due to a lack of interest, a realization that they would be ignored, a desire to not be used as one more element in the publicity campaign or some other reason.

In any case, I am happy that they have resisted the temptation to speak out. A Christian version of the uproar over cartoons that offended Muslims would only be further publicity for the book and film.

In fact, though, the uproar has reached the point where, in fairness, Brown's publisher and the film distributor should turn over part of their advertising budgets to the Church people whose conniptions have provided free publicity and made people wonder if all the squawking might indicate that Brown is on to something. They wonder why Church leaders are so upset if it is pure fiction that the Catholic Church has kept the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene secret for two thousand years. (As if the Catholic Church can keep anything secret for long. After all, we know that Pope Benedict was elected in the conclave with 84 votes -- a secret that could not be kept for even a few months.)

One thing the squawkers and, I suppose, all us Church functionaries could do while waiting for the advertising budget check to arrive would be to ask ourselves why folks are willing to believe a cockamamie conspiracy theory in mediocre prose rather than us, even when we have facts and common sense to back us up.

It is not likely that Brown's book would have attracted the attention that it has attracted if it had been about Sophocles, Caesar, Genghis Khan or Karl Marx. People remain fascinated by Jesus, even when they do not know much about him. They assume that there must be some mysterious fact that accounts for his continuing impact on the lives of men and women. Obviously, for a lot of people the Church has not done a good job of conveying that mystery.

The easy way out is to blame people for not listening. That's a common clerical cop-out that fails to recognize that most failures in communication are the fault of the communicator, not the audience.

If we cannot or will not present the case for the Church's understanding of Jesus in a way that engages people, even if it does not convince them, the fault is ours. There is curiosity out there that indicates a longing for something deeper than the day-to-day. We claim to have found it. Are we at least as convincing in word and deed as the latest fiction?

The fact that the novel and movie could attract such a huge audience even in those parts of the world with the longest history of Christian evangelization is a sad commentary on the life of the Catholic Church today.

Do we have the intellectual, artistic, emotional and, ultimately, spiritual integrity that can challenge, encourage and attract modern people? If we have them where are they? Have we put all our lights under bushel baskets? Is it the world's fault, the devil's fault or our fault that people's interest in Jesus is being answered by Dan Brown instead of us?

The Da Vinci Code is mediocre fiction, but perhaps it is also a call to conversion for mediocre Christians.

Maryknoll Father William Grimm is 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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As a lead-up to the 2008 centenary of Japanese emigration to Brazil, the self-help association Kansai Brazil Community celebrated its annual festival April 22-29 in the former Kobe-Hyogo Emigrant Center with a photo exhibition and videos showing the early days of Japanese in Brazil. There was also a variety of events illustrating Brazilian culture. Among the participants were fifth-generation Brazilians of Japanese descent.

The ship Kasado Maru left Kobe carrying the first immigrants on April 28, 1908. Since then, around one million Japanese have emigrated. Of that number, 250,000 left from Kobe and 150,000 from Yokohama.

The city of Kobe plans to celebrate the centenary in two years, and lest the history of those times be lost, a movement is under way to have the Kobe Emigration Center preserved as a memorial to Japanese overseas.

On the Church's side, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan's desk for Refugees, Migrants and People on the Move (J-CARM) is planning to offer special Masses and hold pilgrimages and other events over the two years leading up to the centenary. Also, in order to promote understanding of immigrants from Brazil and provide a more complete system of pastoral care for them, J-CARMis putting together material meant to help evangelization.

Katsuyuki Takahashi, 61, a Catholic teaching at Keiko Junior and Senior High School, left for Paraguay at the age of 12.

Commenting on his experiences and his hopes for the workers from overseas, he said, "It is said that 320,000 Brazilians of Japanese descent have come to work in Japan. Because they cannot speak Japanese or read kanji they experience a great deal of hardship. I wish the State had some policy concerning the hardship Japanese emigrants face overseas, and that it would also give some thought to the difficulties of the immigrants working here now. I hope that the Church too will always give them a warm welcome."


For 10 years, priests, Religious and lay people have taken turns conducting a weekly radio broadcast in the Yamaguchi and Shimane districts of the Hiroshima diocese.

"The Sunday Gospel" airs every Sunday morning from 7:45 to 8:00 on KRY Yamaguchi Radio. Since the first broadcast in April 1996 more than 120 people have taken part.

Each month, the program presents a different theme covering a wide spectrum of topics such as education, welfare and social problems. Sometimes the program consists of the sermon for that Sunday's Mass.

It was Kanji Fujiya, 66, then employed at the KRY Yamaguchi Radio studio, who suggested that the districts produce a radio program as a means of evangelization. The Jesuits provided financial help to begin the project.

"Listening to radio stimulates the imagination," said Fujiya. "It is the medium most suited to spreading the Good News. On local radio the distance factor is eliminated -- speaker and listener feel close."

Jesuit Father Domenico Vitali, 68, now the pastor of the Tokuyama Church, was the district representative at that time. He told the Catholic Weekly that previous generations of missionaries made contact with society through kindergartens and schools but in the sphere of people's day-to-day life missionaries were inclined to keep to church community members. Using the radio was a completely new experiment.

Because the program is not beamed to a nationwide audience, it is possible to introduce listeners to what is taking place in the district. A program, for instance, that drew a big response from listeners was one conducted by a Sister who hails from Shimonoseki.

For Fujiya, however, there was one unforgettable broadcast in April 1999 that went 30 minutes over time. It was an interview with Fr. Arturo Chirino, a Jesuit priest who was in a hospice for the dying.

"Cancer is best," he told listeners, "because you know you are going to die and you can prepare to meet God."

He died the following month. The studio received many requests for recordings of the interview.

Now, with the spread of the Internet there is some discussion as to whether the broadcast should be continued.

"It is costly, but in the end the radio is the easiest to use," said Fr. Vitali. Therefore, it has been decided to continue the program for this year.

The annual cost comes to 3 million yen so the organizers are searching for sponsors. Experiments with sending out the program on Internet are also continuing.

Fujiya said he prays that even a few more people may come to know the gospel through these broadcasts. It is his hope that instead of listening to a program all alone, groups such as local women's societies could listen to the program to start discussion or gather ideas for activities.

"Who knows? A church function could become a local community event. It would be nice to share with others the joy of living with Christ," he said.


"SEAFARER'S DAY" posterThe Pontifical Council of Migrants and Itinerant calls all Catholics to pray for the Seafarers on the 2nd Sunday of July ( July 9, 2006), the Sunday which the Pontifical Council has set up as Sea Sunday.

We feel the seafarers are far from us, but we depend on them to our daily food and needs. All the daily needs which are imported amount to 110,000,000 tons/ year, which is 8 tons/year per person. 80% of this amount is by ship. That means we can't live without the work of seafarers. We live so closed to the "Seafarers".

Seafarers are living in loneliness separated far from their own families for a long time. And they live always with danger. You can recall easily two accidents that happened recently in Tokyo Bay.

On the 13th of April, around 5:20 am., there two ships crashed 9 kilometers off Chiba-ken Tateyama-shi, near the entrance of Tokyo Bay. "Eastern Challenge" the Philippine Cargo Ship the collided with the Cargo Ship "Tsugaru-Maru". The left bow of "Eastern Challenge" was damaged, filled with water and sank after noon. There were 25 Filipino members, and fortunately all of them were saved. AOS members had visited those seamen before. According to the AOS members who visited them after the accident, many crew were suffering from PTSD experiencing, as insomnia, suddenly hearing the sound of the crash or unable to look at the sea.

On the same day at 6:15 am., the "Sun Flower", Car Cargo Ship and the Cargo Ship "Kaisen-Maru"collided. One of the crew said it was the longest day of his 15 years as a seamam. Another crew member had been saved once from his sinking ship in South Africa.

In the Ocean, there is fear and danger of attack by pirate. They need to watch out day and night. In the war zones also, they encounter danger and fear. The seamen suffer from such stress. Let us also consider that if Article 9 of Japanese Constitution is revised, the seamen will be the very first ones to be sent to the front line in order to transport military goods.

Thus the seafarers are supporting our lives in severe conditions.
We should offer our prayers for them asking for their safety and expressing our thanksgiving.
I invite you to contact us, if you are interested in this AOS work.
Will you come to join us for Ship Visits as a volunteer?

2006 July 9
Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move
Chair Person Tani Daiji (Bishop of Saitama Diocese)


diene imgThe United Nations Human Right Councils' Special Rapporteur, Doudou Diene, arrived in Japan on May 13 for a five-day visit. During his stay Diene met with representatives of the government and non-governmental organizations, and made his first fact-finding visit to Okinawa.

Commenting on his visit, Diene said, "Very few governments recognize discrimination. My work is to uncover what's being hidden. I am critical, but cooperative with the government. It is a process of dialogue and tension."

Diene came to Japan in July of last year as a UN Special Rapporteur to investigate contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. He submitted his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights (replaced by the Human Rights Council in May 2006) last January.

In response to this report 77 Japanese organizations, including the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, issued a joint communiqué which recognized that "racial discrimination and xenophobia do exist in Japan." This communiqué heightened solidarity among the organizations signing it.

Regarding the report, Diene commented, "All countries are facing challenges of racism and discrimination, but each has particular problems. Japan is facing it with particular historical background, such as discrimination against burakumin (outcast communities) and Ainu."

Among the topics the report addressed from a historical and legal perspective were history textbooks, political representation of minorities and US bases in Okinawa.

Commenting on his mission, Diene said the work of a Special Rapporteur was "a tough job." He does not receive any financial assistance from the government or the UN, and personally visited the areas concerned to conduct his investigation.

"I come from Senegal. It is characterized by its openness. At university I studied international relations, philosophy and history and I got a strong desire to work for the world," he said.

Diene became a diplomat and later joined UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). He worked in inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. He has visited Japan many times since 1979.

"Japanese culture is not a monoculture," he said. "Minorities must be recognized. Fighting discrimination is not to protect individual interests, but has to support multi-culturalism in Japan."

"Discrimination is to be fought. We have to recognize its existence and its long history," he added.

Apart from a press conference, the only press interview Diene gave was with the Catholic Weekly because he said he wished to communicate with its readers.


Bishop Hisajiro Matsunaga, who led the Fukuoka diocese for 15 years, died of a cerebral hemorrhage early in the morning of June 2 at his residence in Fukuoka. He was 76 years old.

Father Soichi Kawakami, who will serve as administrator of the southern diocese until the appointment of a new bishop, told the Catholic weekly in a telephone interview: "It was a shock. A day of joy has turned into a day of sorrow."

The priest was referring to celebrations planned for June 4 to celebrate what would have been the 50th anniversary of the bishop's ordination to the priesthood. Cards that had been printed to commemorate the ordination were distributed at the bishop's wake that evening.

Father Kawakami noted that just a few days before his death, the bishop had visited his parents' graves in his hometown of Hirodo in Nagasaki prefecture.

According to Father Kawakami, Bishop Matsunaga had recently joked, "I won't be around much longer." The priest said his reply was, "Don't go while you're still in office."

The bishop's June 5 funeral was celebrated by Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, along with most of Japan's bishops, 150 priests and more than 1,000 Religious and lay people.

At Bishop Matsunaga's wake and funeral, speakers referred to his warm sincerity, but many also spoke of his caustic tongue, for which he was noted.

The bishop was born March 7, 1930, and was ordained in Rome in 1956 for Nagasaki diocese. In Rome he studied at Pontifical Urban University before earning a doctorate in canon law at Pontifical Lateran University and a doctorate in theology at Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. After his return to Nagasaki, he served in various positions in the archdiocese.

In 1977, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Nagasaki, a position he held until his appointment in late 1990 to succeed retiring Bishop Saburo Hirata as head of the Fukuoka diocese. He was installed as bishop of Fukuoka on Jan. 15, 1991.

When Bishop Matsunaga turned 75 last year, he submitted his request for resignation to the Vatican, in accord with canon law, but as of the time of his death, the request had not been accepted.

Fukuoka is 875 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. The diocese comprises the prefectures of Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Saga. According to the diocesan report for 2005, it had 31,287 registered Catholics, with an estimated 5,000 unregistered foreign Catholics also in the diocese.


Four young Japanese joined a field trip to Cambodia March 27-April 2 organized for junior high and senior high school students by the Japan Lay Missionary Movement (JLMM).

The students on the Cambodia Study Tour 2006 learned the history of civil wars and the current situation of health education in Cambodia.

Before going to Cambodia, the students had the idea that it was simply a poor country with a lot of land mines.

After meeting Cambodian people, however, one of the students, Ayaka Miyashita, a 10th grader and a member of Yukinoshita Catholic Church in Kamakura, commented, "I thought the people have a warm relationship with each other."

Shion Yamashita, a seventh grader and a member of Yuigahama Catholic Church in Kamakura, said she felt "Everyone is doing their very best to live."

The Japanese students also met local high school students in order to get to know each other. Cambodian students performed traditional dances while the Japanese demonstrated calligraphy and other Japanese traditions.

JLMM plans to continue organizing tours for junior and senior high school students. Information is available by telephone at 03-5414-5222.


VIETNAMESE BISHOP IN TOKYO TALKS OF PIGS AND HERBS AS MEANS TO HELP POORIn an effort to promote self-reliance among poor people, the diocese of Phan Thiet in southern Vietnam breeds pigs and generates electricity from the methane gas emitted by their manure. It also manages a medicinal herb garden that produces inexpensive medicines.

Bishop Nguyên Thanh Hoan (66) said during an interview with the Catholic Weekly that he is urging people "not only to be concerned about their faith, but to become involved in social activities."

The bishop visited Japan in April and spoke at the Shinsei-kaikan in Tokyo where he also had discussions with members of volunteer groups supporting his work.

"The first thing we are trying to do is eliminate poverty," said the bishop, who soon after being ordained a priest, built a care facility for 345 children who had lost parents in the Vietnam War.

Pig-raising to establish the financial independence of religious houses proceeded well and they established a system of loaning pigs to households. Within the four years by which they were to return the pigs, families were able to become self-supporting.

"Cash income increased and the mothers gained more influence," according to Bishop Hoan. "When men are the wage earners they are not inclined to listen to the opinions of their wives."

As an alternative to expensive medical treatment, the diocese began the cultivation of tropical herbs used in traditional Vietnamese medicine. Along with sending 10 people to study tropical medicine at university each year, the project manages tropical herb gardens and clinics.

"I was reared in a poor family. At the seminary I studied sociology, and when I became a priest I decided to concentrate seriously on social activities," said Bishop Hoan, who is also chairman of the Council for Social Welfare of the Vietnamese bishops' conference.

When Father Isamu Ando, S.J. (71), the representative of Japan-Vietnam, an NGO that has been assisting Vietnam since 1990, said that when he first met Bishop Hoan, he felt he was "a person who truly became involved with people and wanted to see what he could do to help poor people. He thought that even with a little effort things could be done."

HINT (Humane International Network), an NGO which developed out of Epopee, a bar opened by Catholic priest Father Georges Neyrand, has also been supporting the Phan Tiet diocesan social works since 1996.

As the number of unemployed people in Vietnam continues to rise, Bishop Hoan says he hopes that "although what we can do is severly limited, our assistance reaches many more people."

The total population of Phan Tiet diocese is about one million, of whom 158,000 are Catholic.

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