Pope Francis made a historic visit to Japan this weekend, this being only the second time a Pope has ever visited the nation, the first being in 1961, of Pope John Paul the 2nd.
His message was to promote a world free of nuclear armaments and, to Christians, the vocation to protect the sanctity of life. He wanted to encourage the very small Catholic population resident there. The two Masses held in Tokyo and Nagasaki have drawn upwards of 85000 people eager to share in his message of peace.
The history of the Catholic church in Japan has not been without its martyrs. Currently only 1% of the population identifies itself as Christian. Predominantly most Japanese are Shinto and there has been a strong cultural resistance to any other form of religion being introduced to its peoples. Shintoists do acknowledge a deity and the need to pray but mostly to ward off evil spirits, whom they believe disrupt the order of the universe. There are many Shinto shrines and temples all over the country.
It was noted that Pope Francis paused to pray on the hill where Paul Miki and 25 others were crucified in 1597 for their Catholic faith. The Pope himself had wanted to be sent to Japan as a missionary during his formative years as a Jesuit. He had never been able to fulfill that wish. The famous Polish saint, Maximilian Kolbe, arrived in Japan in 1931 and built a Franciscan monastery on the outskirts of Nagasaki. To this day it is a significant Catholic monument, having survived the atomic bomb blast, despite being advised by Shintoists to build on the other side of the hill to be more in tune with nature.
Pope Francis addressed the people of the only nation in the world to suffer the explosions of two atomic bombs in 1945. On November 25th 2019 he met and heard the testimonies of survivors of the more recent, 2011 Fukushima, “Triple Disaster,” an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the death toll of which has reached 18000. Each of the three in their testimonies expressed the impact of this disaster on families, their own and others.
A kindergarten teacher expressed her shock at the events when one of her charges died and her home and everything around her was swept away. She shares her commitment to teach the little children about the preciousness of life and her responsibility to teach and protect life.
A Buddhist priest explained how the community were evacuated from their small traditional village with its Shinto temple and how they were widely dispersed. After the ban was lifted 5 years later some families returned but their life is still insecure as they struggle to learn to cope with their feelings of loss.
A young Catholic shared how his family was split up, the distress of his mother and her young children fleeing, while the father remained to assist. He eventually became mentally and physically ill. The young man reported his concern that people are returning yet radiation remains a hazard.
These disasters and their impact on the people were a major feature in the visit by Pope Francis. Each one who gave a testimony begged him to pray for their particular needs but all stressed the need for prayer for peace. “We cannot fully convey our suffering. So please pray with us, Holy Father, that we can appreciate each other’s pain and love our neighbors. Pray that even in this cruel reality, we will be given the courage not to turn our eyes away. Pray that those who have power will find the courage to follow another path. Pray that we can all overcome this injury. And please pray with us that people from all over the world will work to eliminate the threat of radiation exposure from our future.” Pope Francis responded with his message, “in the ongoing work of recovery and rebuilding after the disasters many hands must join together and many hearts unite as one…” See www.zenit.org for more details of the visit of Pope Francis in Japan.
Maybe someone shared the story with Pope Francis of the peace cranes of Hiroshima. Sadako Sasaki was a little Japanese girl who was two years old during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She survived the bombing but contracted leukemia and died at the age of 12. During her time in hospital a friend introduced her to the origami folded crane as a symbol of peace. Before her death she had folded more than a 1000 cranes which together with others are housed in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
FAMILY WEEKLY 27 NOVEMBER 2019. Lucy Moll and Toni Rowland