Japan Is in Crisis!

Fr. Barry Cairns
February 7, 2014

Japan in CrisisJapan is in crisis! There is the pervading fear of earthquakes, tsunami and resulting nuclear radiation. Some nuclear power stations are said to be built over earthquake fault lines. A recent headline in the newspaper read, “320,000 Could Die in a Nankai Trough Earthquake!” Some predict that even Mount Fuji is due for an eruption. Such news items seep into the heart and create uncertainty and fear.

Added to these heart disturbing factors is the growing friction with China and the sabre rattling statements of politicians. The ruling party wants to change the peace Constitution and have an active army. Older people especially see their future with unease. Those in their 70s have experienced war, nuclear devastation, hunger and poverty. They worry about whether or not their savings and pensions will have value in the future. They worry there will be another war. The big companies are making a profit which boosts the GNP, but the little people feel only the effects of rising prices of food and housing.

As I see it, there is an insidious fog settling over Japanese society today. There is a malaise that seeps deep into the heart. Especially in cities, the traditional religions of Shinto and Buddhism have sadly little influence. What Pope Francis calls “the cult of money” has taken over. I see this cult as an escape mechanism against the above fears.

A Japanese Nobel Prize Laureate, Kenzaburo Oe has said of his own people, “Today we Japanese face a grave crisis: we are a people without hope.”

This is when the missionary proclaiming Christ’s message comes in! The Japanese people are a people without a shepherd to guide them. To the very depths of His heart, Jesus felt deeply for such people.

Japan is neither a popular mission nor a romantic one! There are comparatively few baptisms and vocations. But it is a nation that has a dire need of Kingdom values, especially hope, peace and joy. It is a mission to the unevangelized. As such, Japan is an import mission for the Church and the Missionary Society of St. Columban.

Are we being selective? Selectivity is not Christ’s way. Only God Himself can judge “success!” Here I give you concrete examples of modern mission in Japan:

The parish of Hodogaya is in the geographical center of Yokohama City, a city of three million. We have 975 parishioners on the books and another 204,258 non-Christians in Hodogaya Ward. Our Bishop has said that “parishes are evangelizing communities.” I give pastoral care to my people, but as a missionary I must also care for the multitudes who have only heard of Christ in a distorted way.

My aim is to imbue the Catholic community to be missionaries in their own homes, schools, workplaces and apartments. They are the ones who sow seeds of hope among a people with no hope. Our aim is to be witnesses to Kingdom values, especially of hope, peace and joy. That is our primary aim. If as a result some will seek Baptism, we have welcoming groups to cater for them.

In my homilies and talks I would constantly repeat Christ’s message in some way, namely, “God loves you 100% as you are, this is the basis of our hope. Go out and share this gift with others.” To share God’s gifts is the essence of mission.

Some concrete example of such mission are a group of mothers who staff a drop-in center for lonely and disturbed youth who come in just to talk; others care for migrant workers and the homeless. Yokohama is a major port, and the men help out in the Apostleship of the Sea; others help out in various A.A. style recovery groups. Some are involved in helping tsunami victims; others are active in L’Arche groups for the disabled.

And finally, there is a group of five who reach out to the internet multitudes. The parish home page is attractive and kept up to date. They publish my homilies weekly in both Japanese and English. We get about 60 hits a day. This is part of modern mission as well.

I first came to Japan in 1956. It was a poor country, rife with malnutrition and tuberculosis. Now, 57 years later, I see malnutrition of the heart rather than the body. We as Columban missionaries in Japan aim to be instruments of Christ’s hope and peace. We are passionate about the value of mission to Japan!