The May 2001 Assembly at Karasaki after a process of reflection adopted the following:
A. Regional Goals - Assist, Revitalize and Support.
I. Assist our members to develop fraternal relations, encourage reconciliation amont ourselves and promote our intellectual and spiritual growth.
II. Revitalize our Christian communities to fulfill their mission responsibility, build up apostolic group for incorporating the Gospel message into the wider society; minister to migrants, refugees, the marginalized, the aged and those in hospices; care for those afflicted with AIDS and the addicted; consider youth as one of our major priorities; make use of technology in the advancement of evangelization; develop new strategies in mission; support innovation and creativity in our missionary response; conduct interreligious Dialogue at all levels.
III. Support the local church in its mission and vision. Challenge the Region to rethink its mission response to changing realities within diocesan structures. Strongly encourage all vocations to the apostolate. Welcome into the Christian community migrants, refugees and th marginalized, joining Japanese and foreigners in a common liturgy and involving them in lay ministries. Collaborate with others in the apostolate, sharing our resources for mutual development and support.
The Region is now proceeding with the issues involved in strategic planning. Men are older, some reluctant to move or to take on additional responsibility. Yet there is great hope as we have new missionary groups from the Philippines and Peru and additions from the Mexican Guadalupe Missioners coming into Kyoto. Bishop Otsuka has inaugurated at a team ministry organization of his Diocese with no pastors assigned to each parish but a moderator assisted by other priests to care for various Church communities. The Regional Council no longer assigns personnel to a particular place but offers the individual with his competencies to be placed by the Bishop. Thus Maryknoll in Japan is freed from any concern to cover parishes in the Kyoto Diocese. In Hokkaido we face a shortage of Maryknollers, but we hope to enlist our Jesuit neighbors in Senior Ministry opportunities in the Tomakomai-Muroran Area. We continue to work for integrating our Maryknollers with the local clergy in our common mission apostolate.
B. Reflection on the Personnel Resources over the next 15 Years
The group looked at a graph of the ages of the present personnel at present and what the ages will be in 5, 10 and 15 years. The ages were divided into color blocks representing persons in their 30's, 40's, 50's, etc. for each of the various time frames. The preponderance of those over 50 was clear, even in the present, as was the gap in certain age groups, e.g. in 5 years there will be only one in his 50's.
It was understood that it is very difficult to project numbers for individual regions and Units because (1) it can be expected that there will be movement between regions (especially with the US Region), so a given region cannot be considered to be a closed system, (2) the questions of new vocations and where those members will be assigned is obviously difficult to predict and in any case, when you consider the time from acceptance of a candidate to assignment after he is sent to the mission, there will be no significant increase in the foreseeable future, (3) statistical projections are not so accurate with groups of only 20 or 30.
However, as a possible guideline for Japan, Maryknoll in Japan since 1991 has lost 12 men and gained 4 (including the two candidates present in the region) for a net loss of 8. (This number reflects losses from Society service, death, illness, retirement). This is an average loss of 1.5 per year. If we used that as a rule of thumb, we could project 20 men in five years, 12 men in 10 years and about 7 in 15 years.
Some of the observations on this projection were that we certainly will have to think of collaboration and cooperation in our future plans. Also, we have to consider ways to keep people close enough together to have community support and cooperation. And we must continue to emphasize work for vocations.
C. Reflection on the 5 Mission Focus Elements from the Chapter
These elements constitute the focus chosen by the Chapter for our mission work; the Chapter’s Strategic Plan for implementing the Society’s Mission Vision Statement. Much time was spent deepening the group’s understanding of the content of these elements.
Focus Element #1:
A Society-wide understanding of the elements of integral evangelization: Presence and Witness, Human Promotion and Liberation, Liturgical Life, Prayer and Contemplation, Interreligious Dialogue, Proclamation and Catechesis. Our missionary experience and history bring us to approach these various elements from the perspectives of inculturation and the preferential option for the poor.
The listing of the 5 elements of integral evangelization gave some the impression that this section was unfocused. It was thought by some that this represented a list drawn up in an attempt to be inclusive of what everyone was doing and as such would not be helpful as a focus. However, it was pointed out that these five elements of integral evangelization were taken directly from Church documents and that together they form integral evangelization. One uses the form of evangelization that is appropriate for the situation. Also the key word in the statement is “a Society-wide understanding.” The focus is on gaining an understanding of integral evangelization throughout the society on all levels as a basis for our evangelization efforts.
There was no problem with the 5 elements. These have been discussed a number of times at Assemblies and most of the Region members have a satisfactory understanding of them. A special program to gain understanding of these is probably not necessary in Japan. However, reference to these elements must be made often, and we should work on deepening and broadening our understanding.
Focus Element #2:
Development and implementation of new strategies for integral evangelization of the unevangelized
The question was asked: Why is this necessary? Some of the answers: situations change over the years. There have to be new ways to evangelize people in new situations. One bishop pointed out that Japanese Catholics have not been very successful in passing their faith onto their children. There needs to be thought given to how this can be done. Another observation was that it is evangelization of “the unevangelized” that is important. While there is always need to reevangelize and deepen evangelization, the need to evangelize the unevangelized has to be a top priority for professional missionary groups like Maryknoll. In strategic planning we have to make choices among many “good options.”
Consideration was given to the statement in the rationale that one element of this area should involve partnership between our theologians and our missioners in the field. Some felt that theologians are often too abstract and removed from reality, whereas the field missioner is the one getting theological insights. It was then pointed out that this was precisely why the partnership was important. The theologian may need the insight of the missioner more than vice versa, but once this insight is gained the theologian can help put it into context and make a contribution to the advance of theology. The example of fr. Nebreda, S.J. was given. His insights gained from mission experience in Japan brought him to the concept of “pre evangelization” which when developed led to our present understanding of integral evangelization.
We need a good deal of specialization to make a significant contribution to the local church. Starting from our own personal experiences we reflect on the experience of our community and its goal to manifest Christ. Japan has a large number of people who have no contact with the Church. What is evangelization in Japan? Where should we be putting our energy? The key word is “conversion.” People need to experience the power of God in their lives. Faith should be rooted in action and not merely be academic.
Think tank groups of 3 to 5 persons could brain storm ideas. A similarity of interests is necessary in developing new possibilities. Everyone’s input needs to be included. People should be encouraged to articulate their dreams for mission and be helped in realizing them.
Certainly in the Japan Region this focus element would be very important.
Focus Element #3:
The discovery of new faces of the Paschal Mystery
There was some discussion as to what this meant. The conclusion was that it meant to be with the suffering, wherever or whoever they may be. The emphasis on “new” means that in today’s world there are many people suffering whose condition has not been recognized or who have been neglected. One example in Japan might be AIDs patients. Others might be the mentally ill or the students suffering from bullying. We believe that suffering can yield new life - this is where hope can be found in the midst of affliction. Our evangelization tries to bring the person to hope.
Some thought that this element should be our number one priority - “this is where our Christianity is.” Certainly our second “Regional Goal” calls for this kind of evangelization.
Focus Element #4:
A plan to enable personnel to gather together to implement new strategies for evangelization so as to provide a bridge to the future for the Society.
In this element, the word “enable personnel to gather together” is key. Scattering our personnel, especially the younger ones, will be disastrous. They must be allowed and encouraged to put their energies together tomake the contribution of their generation. This must be part of our strategic plan.
Focus Element #5:
Collaboration, coordination and cooperation in our mission efforts so as to maximize our resources in mission and to discover new ways of being in mission
This element was discussed. Collaboration is very important where particular skills can be combined with similar gifts in other communities. For example, The Japan Mission Journal represents a cooperative effort of Maryknoll and the Scheut Missioners with an editorial board of a Jesuit, Franciscan, Passionist, Pime, Sacred Heart Sisters, etc. The Sanya work in Tokyo brings many religious communities together. Fr. Roy’s MAC/DARC Programs combines different groups. Our Maryknoll Missioners Association of Faithful represents a very important source of cooperation and common effort in mission.
D. Reflection on what the Region will look like in 5, 10, 15 years in terms of apostolates and personnel
The Japan Maryknoll presence will be fewer for the future though we are blessed with five members born post-World War II, and with the memories of the accomplishments of the first Maryknollers in Japan; a few of high quality can offer vital mission contribution to the Japanese Church. It is
important that they have specialities that will be needed and appreciated in the Japan mission apostolate. It is noteworthy that Apostolic Prefect Patrick Byrne rated this aspect of mission contribution significant from our earliest mission days in Japan.
Patrick F. O’Donoghue, M.M.
Japan Regional Superior
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) marked the beginning of a thoroughgoing renewal in the Catholic Church. It effected dramatic changes in the counter-Reformation attitude that had characterized the Church ever since the Council of Trent. This renewal worked its way into almost every aspect of Catholic life from the inward, theological understanding of the Church, indeed of faith itself, to its outward expression in administrative re-structuring, in liturgy, in legislation, as well as in general attitudes and behavior toward the present-day world and toward other religions.
The implementation of this renewal has been an urgent task of the Catholic Church in Japan, too, from the late 1960s to the present. Beginning with the translation and publication of Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents, it went on to include reform of the liturgy, updating and realigning of administrative structures, re-education of laity, clergy, and religious, promotion of unity among Christians, cooperation with other religions, social involvement, and the furthering of justice and peace. Today, too, the challenge continues to be how to incarnate the spirit of the Council in the life of contemporary Japan.
The first noticeable change brought about as a result of Vatican II was liturgical reform. To manifest its great esteem for the characteristic individuality of each region, culture, and language of the world, the Council opted for use of the vernacular in the liturgy to replace Latin, which had for centuries been the sole liturgical language of the Roman Rite. Accordingly, the Church in Japan, immediately after the Council, began to use Japanese in the liturgy and make liturgical accommodations to Japanese culture.
The "Rite of Marriage" (1st printing 1971; revised edition in preparation), the "Order of Christian Funerals" (1st printing 1971; revised edition 1993), the "Liturgy of the Hours" (1973), the "Rite of Confirmation" (1974), the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults" (1976), the "Missal" (provisional edition 1978), and other liturgical books were published and the major liturgical services came to be performed in Japanese. Liturgical music was composed to fit the Japanese liturgical texts and replace Gregorian chant. The task that still remains, however, goes far beyond Japanese translations or cultural accommodations. It is the authentic inculturation of Christianity into Japan.
Vatican II brought about historic changes in ecumenism, the movement towards unity in Christian faith. The Catholic Church in Japan, too, adopted a more constructive approach. The establishment of national bishops' conferences in each country was itself an outcome of the Council, and when the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan was inaugurated in 1966, it included a Committee for Ecumenism. This committee, along with the National Christian Council (NCC), has sponsored prayer assemblies for Christian unity every January since 1967.
1971 saw the inauguration of SODEPAX JAPAN, the Japanese counterpart of the Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX), which had been established in 1965 by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Commission "Justice and Peace."
High-level inter-denominational commissions were set up with the Anglican Church in April 1972 and with the Lutheran Church in February 1985. These led to a deepening of mutual theological understanding and resulted in acknowledgment of the authenticity of baptisms administered in their respective churches (with the Anglicans in May 1977 and with the Lutherans in December 1988).
Preparations for translating and publishing an interconfessional Common Bible
for joint use by Protestants and Catholics began in 1969, and the first book of the new Common Bible, the Gospel of Luke, appeared in September 1975. It was followed by the complete New Testament in September 1978. These were thoroughly revised, the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament were added, and "The Bible: A New Interconfessional Translation" was issued by the Japan Bible Society in September 1987. The Catholic Bishops' Conference immediately approved the use of this Bible in public worship, and in the following year also sanctioned the form Iesu for the Lord's Name (the form which has long been used among Protestants as well as the general public), allowing it to replace Iezusu (used only among Catholics) in liturgical texts and in official documents issued by the bishops or under their auspices. With this long-standing mark of disunity removed, unity "in the Name of the Lord" came one step closer.
In 1984, the Committee for Ecumenism published its "Guidelines for Ecumenism in Japan." Throughout the 1980s, the Catholic Council for Justice and Peace served as the main vehicle for increased cooperation with the National Christian Council. "Prayer Assemblies for Social Justice and the Banning of Nuclear Weapons" were held, and joint action was taken with regard to social and political issues, such as the Yasukuni Shrine, the imperial enthronement ceremonies, release of South Korean political prisoners, and revision of the Alien Registration Law.
The 1970s witnessed an upsurge in dialogue with non-Christian religions as well. East-West tensions were still high and religious people became increasingly aware that they shared a common responsibility toward peace. The Catholic Church of Japan took part in the World Conference on Religion and Peace (1970) as well as in the Asian branch of this Conference (1976). When the first meeting of the Japan Youth Religionists was held in 1976, Cardinal S. Pignedoli, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians (now called the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue), came to Japan to participate.
Interest in Zen spread among Catholics and many began to use methods of Zen meditation in their own prayer life. Dialogue with Buddhists, especially Zen Buddhists, developed in many places and led to Oriental-Occidental spiritual exchanges. The first of these took place in September 1979, when 51 Buddhist monks experienced a month of monastic life in contemplative Catholic monasteries in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. For the second exchange, in October 1983, 17 contemplative European monks, mainly Benedictines and Trappists, came to Japan to spend a month in Zen monasteries. Thus far there have been four such spiritual exchanges, with the participants traveling to each other's countries to get first-hand experience of religious life there.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II appealed to religious leaders all over the world to gather for a Prayer Assembly for World Peace, which was held in Assisi in October and was attended by religious leaders from Japan.
While it can thus be said that dialogue is taking place with other religions, it is generally with the traditional religions. No dialogue is taking place with religious groups founded immediately after the Second World War or in more recent years, or with groups that have little to do with Christianity, among which must be included the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (popularly known as the "Unification Church," or the Basic Principles Movement).
Some tasks still remain with regard to Japanese religions. One is the need for academic as well as experiential dialogue with Shinto, which undeniably underlies many Japanese religions and is necessary for understanding them. As regards Buddhism, though spiritual exchanges are taking place with Zen Buddhism, little dialogue is being pursued with other forms of Buddhism. Greater effort is needed toward more constructive exchange with these, too. As for the post-war or newer religious groups, an attempt should first of all be made to survey and study the reasons why such religions have become popular in Japan.
It should be noted that cooperation and solidarity with other religions at the level of social action is gradually increasing. This will be treated later.
Vatican II refers to the "local or particular" Church (Decree on Ecumenism, no.14), and says: "...it has come about that various churches established in diverse places by the Apostles and their successors have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.23). Taken in context, this passage refers to the various churches that have existed in the East since apostolic times.
In this same spirit, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), in a Declaration issued at its first plenary session in 1974, said: "The local church is a church incarnate in a people, a church indigeous and inculturated. And this means concretely a church in continuous, humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions in brief, with all life-realities of the people in whose midst it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it gladly makes its own." (no.12) The reference here is to the churches that have been born in various countries as a result of missionary work since the 16th century and points not to administrative districts but to various clearly delineated cultural spheres. That is to say, it envisions an "Indian Church," a "Philippine Church," or a "Japanese Church." Such national or regional groupings tend to be co-extensive with the bishops' conferences that the Second Vatican Council decreed should be established as the framework within which the bishops should carry out their mutually shared pastoral responsibility to make the services of the Church available to all.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has been a member of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences ever since 1971, when preparations were first made to establish it, and, thanks to exchanges with bishops of other Asian countries, the bishops of Japan came to a deeper awareness that the Church of Japan is a local church, an Asian Church.
The Japanese Church as a whole became more conscious of its own local identity in 1981. That was the year in which Pope John Paul II came to Japan, not as head of the Vatican State, but for the sole purpose of visiting the Church here. Though the Pope actually visited only the three dioceses of Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, Catholics of other dioceses as well felt that the Pope had come to visit them in their own church, the Church of Japan.
In September 1986, at the fourth plenary session of the FABC held in Tokyo, Archbishop S. Shirayanagi, president of the Bishops' Conference of Japan, while addressing the bishops who were representing the various FABC countries and the laypeople who were also in attendance, made a formal apology for the wartime responsibility that he said must be borne by Japan and the Catholic Church of Japan for the tragedies and atrocities of the Second World War.
Ever since the inauguration of the FABC, exchanges among the various local churches of Asia have increased, but it cannot be said that the Japanese Church, either publicly or privately, has managed to measure up yet to the expectations of the churches in other Asian countries.
The 1960s and 1970s saw conflict over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and an increasing number of movements calling for reform of social structures. Within the Japanese Catholic Church, too, there was a gradual heightening of awareness regarding issues of human rights and social justice. In 1967, Pope Paul VI had urged that Catholic Committees for Justice and Peace be established in each nation. The Bishops' Conference of Japan set up the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, as a conference of the various Catholic groups that had been active in such matters, and its first national assembly was held in November 1975.
With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, refugees, called "Boat People," began to seek asylum in other countries. The first refugees landed in Japan that year and, in response to a U.N. request, the Catholic Church, through its relief agency, Caritas Japan, sponsored their temporary stay. Five religious residences and other facilities were made available to them. Though at first the Japanese government refused to grant these refugees permanent residence, it was later granted under the pressure of world opinion. In 1982, the Bishops' Conference set up the Special National Committee for the Settlement of Refugees (renamed, in 1985, the Committee for the Settlement of Refugees), and each diocese began to provide help for the refugees within its territory.
A major social problem in Japan during the 1980s was the influx of migrant workers from neighboring countries. Increasing numbers of Asian women, especially Filipinos, came to Japan, most notably in 1983 and 1984, to work mainly as nightlife hostesses and entertainers. These women have often been forced into prostitution, exploited, had their freedom restricted, or been subjected to other forms of degradation. Help was provided for them by churches and religious houses until, at the request of the Philippine Bishops' Conference in April 1983, a Committee to Help Asian Women Residing in Japan was organized with the backing of the Catholic Committee for International Cooperation. It brought together people who had been active in this regard till then. (In 1984, the organization was renamed the Committee for Solidarity with Asian Women Residing in Japan.)
Around 1987 the number of foreign male workers also began to increase, not only from Asian countries but from Latin American countries as well. With problems of international marriages increasing among these men and, of course, among the women already mentioned, there was a quickly growing variety of people and problems calling for attention. Accordingly, the previously mentioned Committee was renamed the Committee for Solidarity with Foreigners in Japan. It stationed representatives in every diocese and proceeded to deal with foreign laborers' problems. In 1992 the Episcopal Commission for Social Activities drew up an assessment of the situation and outlined the challenge for the Church in Japan in a message entitled "Seeking the Kingdom of God which Transcends Differences in Nationality."
Pope John Paul II's visit in 1981 had lasting effects on the Church of Japan in the 1980s, among which should be noted a strengthened sense of responsibility for peace, renewed enthusiasm for evangelization, and a lively consciousness of self-identity as the Church of Japan. Moreover, the "Peace Appeal" made by Pope John Paul in Hiroshima reached out beyond the Church to have a widespread impact on Japanese society.
The Episcopal Commission for Social Activities, following up on the theme of this Appeal, issued a document called "Peace and the Catholic Church of Japan Today A Response to the Pope's Peace Appeal." (May 1981) It called on the whole Church to take effective action for peace and stressed the importance of re-education for peace. In the following year, 1982, the Commission collected signatures demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons and organized a Japan Catholic Peace Pilgrimage Mission to present these signatures to the Second U.N. Special Session on Disarmament. It also introduced an annual "Ten Days for Peace," to be observed every August, and appealed for grass-roots campaigns for peace. In 1983 a pastoral letter, "The Desire for Peace," was published, which pointed out not only the menace of nuclear war but the threat to world peace posed by the great gap between the prosperous North and the developing South. On the occasion of the Third U.N. Special Session on Disarmament (May 1988), the signatures of 206 Asian bishops were obtained and presented, demanding disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Within this great diversity of problems, the Church's central concern has been the dignity and mission of human beings created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. In 1983, in order to obtain a more comprehensive grasp of these many problems, the Bishops' Conference organized a Catholic Committee for Human Rights and Welfare and entrusted it with the care of such groups as the Liaison Association for the Disabled, the National Liaison Association of Catholic Volunteers, the Braille Library, the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Strategy Committee, and the Federation of Prison Chaplains. In June 1984, a Pastoral Instruction, "Life, a Gift from God the Catholic Understanding of the Life and Dignity of the Unborn," was issued, stressing the sinfulness of artificial abortion and the need to protect the human rights of unborn children.
The defense of the human rights of the disabled and their welfare are also pressing concerns. In December 1980, the Bishops' Conference published a message "On the Occasion of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981)" and, with the aim of achieving full social participation and equality for the disabled, made a special appeal for the realization of this goal within the Church. During the 1980s, the Conference aimed at having all its publications available in Braille at the same time and for the same price as the regular printed edition. Thus far, availability at the same price has been maintained. Ever since January 1985, all of the Conference's publications have carried a notice granting "permission for sound recordings, enlarged photocopies, and Braille transcriptions for the benefit of people with impaired vision." In April 1990, "The Liturgy of the Mass Celebrated with Sign Language" was published, facilitating the liturgical participation of people with impaired hearing. In May 1991, "Church Building Design Taking into Account the Needs of Handicapped People" was issued.
Among major issues of human rights in Japanese society is the discrimination suffered by Buraku minorities and by Korean residents in Japan."
"The so-called Dowa problem is a most serious and important social problem deriving from the fact that a segment of the Japanese people, owing to discrimination based on a class system formed in the process of the historical development of Japanese society, is placed in such an inferior position economically, socially and culturally that their fundamental human rights are grossly violated even in present-day society and that, in particular, their civil rights and liberties, which are ensured to all people as a principle of modern society, are not fully guaranteed in reality." (From the 1965 Report on the Dowa Policy Council published in "The Reality of Buraku Discrimination in Japan" by Buraku Kaiho Kenkyusho (1991), p.28.)
Discrimination against Buraku minorities was taken up as a project for research and re-education especially by the Kyoto Diocesan Council for Justice and Peace, and in 1978 it was made the theme of the national assembly of the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace. Interventions by Japanese participants in the third World Conference on Religion and Peace in 1979 spurred awareness of discriminatory attitudes within the Japanese religious world. The Joint Conference of Religious Bodies to Deal with the "Buraku" Problem (in the sense proposed by government policy administration) was formed in June 1981, and the Federation of Christian Denominations Concerned with the Problem of Buraku Discrimination in October 1983, both with Catholic participation.
Beginning about this time, criticism within the Church of the use of the discriminatory expression "tokushu buraku" (the term literally means "special communities" but has acquired the discrominatory meaning of "segregated outcastes") brought to light discriminatory tendencies within the Church itself, and led to formation in January 1984 of the Committee for the Buraku Issues. Despite its approval as a national Catholic committee, it continued to function as an organ within the Council for Justice and Peace. It was not until the early 1990s that it acquired its own executive office and became independent of the Council. However, a 1990 survey of attitudes among a number of Osaka parishes revealed that Catholics in general were not yet sufficiently aware of the problem nor were they ready to deal with it. The Episcopal Commission for Social Activities thus issued a message in 1992, entitled "Towards Overcoming Buraku Discrimination," which laid out the basic attitude of the Catholic Church regarding the Buraku problem and called for review and reform of Catholic structures, organizations, customs, liturgy, rites, and instruction, so as to rid these of anything discriminatory.
The issue of human rights of Koreans resident in Japan, with special focus on the Alien Registration Law, became a growing social problem from around 1982. In February 1984, the Catholic Bishops' Conference, through its Commission for Social Activities, presented a proposal to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Home Affairs calling for repeal of the fingerprinting requirement of the Alien Registration Law. Appeals for support were made inside and outside the Church, but Catholics on the whole still lacked awareness and understanding of the issue. When, however, in October 1984, one foreign missionary refused to be fingerprinted and other foreign missionaries soon followed suit, greater awareness finally dawned within the Church and a campaign to abolish fingerprinting began. The Commission for Social Activities sent repeated requests and inquiries to government offices urging amendment of the Alien Registration Law and protection of the rights of individuals who refused to be fingerprinted. Despite several partial changes in the Law since 1987, a persistent campaign is still being waged for the abolition of other requirements of the Law, such as the obligation to carry one's Alien Registration Certificate at all times, the system for renewing this certificate and for re-copying fingerprints, and the unduly severe penalties.
The biggest problem facing the Catholic Church in Japan in political affairs has been the separation of state and religion. Along with the modernization of Japan that began with the Meiji Reform went a divinization of the emperor to the extent that all decisions of national policy were carried out in his "sacred" name. This process continued and gathered momentum until its tragic culmination in the Second World War. The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo harks back to this period and aims at preserving the memory of over two and a half million Japanese who gave their lives "for emperor and country" from the Meiji Reform till the end of the War. Before the War it was under special national protection and funding; subsequently, it has been simply a religious corporation.
Since 1969, however, repeated efforts to enact legislation that would allow the use of national funds for Yasukuni Shrine has aroused a deepening sense of crisis among Catholics. In 1973, the Archbishop of Tokyo, S. Shirayanagi, sent a message to the Prime Minister, in which he objected to a bill allocating state funds for ceremonies held at Yasukuni Shrine, and in 1975 he joined representatives of 13 other Christian denominations in signing a declaration of protest. In October 1980, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan sent a protest to the Prime Minister regarding such nationalization of Yasukuni Shrine.
The nationalization bill did not pass the Diet on that occasion, but with cabinet ministers making it their practice to visit Yasukuni Shrine in their public capacity as government ministers, and with the frequent defeat of law-suits against the Shinto ceremonies attendant on the inauguration of work at building sites, the basic principle of separation of state and religion shows signs of breaking down. The Church continues to voice opposition to this trend, mainly through the Catholic Council for Justice and Peace.
With the passing of Emperor Hirohito in January 1989, the problem of separation of state and religion suddenly escalated. Protests from many quarters were lodged against the government's proposal to carry out the various imperial succession ceremonies according to the pre-war State Shinto rites and at enormous cost to the national treasury. The Bishops' Conference, on the very day of the Emperor's death, addressed a message to all Catholics, warning against State Shinto, nationalism and ultranationalism, saying: "Great care must be taken to avoid divinizing any human being, absolutizing any human system, or universalizing any particular nationalism." Two days later a petition was sent to the Prime Minister, requesting that "freedom of religion and the basic principle of separation of state and religion be observed on the occasion of the funeral rites for the late Emperor."
Again, in November of the same year, the standing committee of the Bishops' Conference sent a petition to the Prime Minister urging, with regard to the accession of the new Emperor and the accompanying rites, that the constitutional principle of separation of state and religion be observed, that these rites not be considered state functions or receive state funding. Accordingly, the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, in joint action with the National Christian Council, began a campaign for signatures of protest. The government, however, maintained that while the funeral observances for Emperor Hirohito had a religious nature, they also had a public dimension as Imperial Household functions. Public funds were used, and the heads of all three powers of state attended the rites. Traditional religious observances were also part of the accession ceremonies of the present Emperor despite their being state functions.
The standing committee of the Bishops' Conference addressed a petition to the Prime Minister in December 1990, in which it was said that Japan should "learn a lesson from its past, when state, religion, and the military joined together to violate the basic human rights and peace of people not only in Japan but around the world, and especially in Asia." It urged that "the basic constitutional principles of separation of state and religion, the sovereignty of the people, and the renunciation of war be strictly observed and that Japan contribute to world peace."
The inclusion of "the renunciation of war" in this plea can surely be attributed to the fact that, even at this stage, there was already serious concern over the way things were leading up to the 1992 PKO Law, which opened the way to dispatching Self-Defense Forces overseas. This same concern was also operative in the movement to use civilian chartered planes rather than SDF planes to transport refugees during the 1991 Gulf War in the Middle East.
The consciousness of being a local church was heightened, as already noted, by the Pope's 1981 visit. The bishops were more closely united into one episcopate. They took action and spoke out together. In fact, it is impossible to respond to the realities and changes of Japanese society or carry out the mission of the Church effectively by working only at a diocesan level or only through the activities of this or that religious order or congregation. In the 1980s, the Church in Japan came to feel strongly the need to work as one toward the common goal of evangelization.
With a growing sense among bishops, priests, religious, and laity that they all share responsibility for evangelization, the need was felt for establishing the required structures. This is what gave birth to the "Basic Orientations and Priorities of the Catholic Church in Japan," which were adopted and announced at the ordinary assembly of the bishops in June 1984. The Bishops' Conference thus committed itself to reforming the central structure that supports the work of the entire Church in Japan, and at the same time laid down a basic common policy for the whole Church and set priorities for implementing this policy. Among these priorities was a plan for calling a National Incentive Convention for Evangelization, which would discuss the direction in which the Church should move and would submit proposals to the Bishops' Conference.
The Bishops' Conference laid down two basic orientations for the fulfillment of the mission of evangelization:
1. The good news of salvation is to be brought to each and every person.
2. Salvation is not an individual affair but is to penetrate the whole of society, with a special concern for the marginalized.
The Conference further enumerated three priorities towards implementing this basic policy:
1. Dioceses and parishes should become evangelizing communities.
2. Dioceses should set up operable structures for cooperation with the various religious orders, missionary congregations, and other groups that work there.
3. Bishops, priests, religious, and lay people should be brought together for a National Incentive Convention for Evangelization in 1987.
Priority was thus placed on promoting a sense of shared responsibility and a united effort among all members of the Church in order to fulfill the mission of evangelization. The First National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE I) held in Kyoto in November 1987, marked a major step forward in implementing the Conference's basic orientations.
Vatican II stressed the dignity, rights, and responsibility of the laity to counterbalance what had been an overly clerical church. After the Council, therefore, a variety of lay movements and organizations were encouraged. Still, the laity seldom had opportunities to participate publicly in decision-making processes of the Church, to discuss matters on an equal footing with bishops and priests, or to carry out their share of responsibility. In this respect, NICE I was an epoch-making experiment, giving concrete expression in Japan to the spirit of Vatican II.
In preparing for NICE, the Bishops' Conference decided to take the attitude "listen, absorb, encourage." Accordingly, open forums for the laity were held throughout all three Ecclesiastical Provinces (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagasaki) and were attended by some 2000 lay people. The question posed in these forums was "What do you propose as intermediate and long-range goals for the Catholic Church in Japan today?" What the laity called attention to was the gap between Church and society, the gap between the faith one holds and the life one leads. The bishops took this as an indication that the Church was too much closed in on itself and decided to make "Building an Open Church" the theme of NICE I.
The Conference looked forward to proposals for a more open Church at three levels: that of the church as a whole (a church involved in society), that of the parish community (the evangelizing parish), and that of the individual (faith nurtured in daily life). For 15 months beginning in July 1986, meetings and discussions were held in various groups, in parishes and dioceses.
Convened in Kyoto on November 20, 1987, NICE I was attended by 275 representatives from all 16 dioceses (17 bishops, 112 priests, 53 religious, and 93 lay people). To these must be added 127 secretaries and some 150 members of the Kyoto Organizing Committee.
Discussions went on for four days and were summed up in 14 proposals. These were adopted by the Convention and submitted to the Bishops' Conference.
The Conference held an extraordinary assembly in December to consider these proposals and responded with a message entitled "Let us Live Together in Joy," in which the Conference expressed its appreciation for NICE I and its proposals and resolved to break open the Church's self-enclosure through the conversion of attitude needed to live "together" "in joy" and through re-examination of how to live the faith. By "together," the Conference meant building up church community in partnership with people who have been relegated by society to a position of weakness. By "in joy," it envisioned a shift from a static understanding of faith as a system of precepts and dogmas to a dynamic living of the faith in daily life; it also intended that the Church should be a place of joyful communion of God and his people. (More about NICE I can be found in "Building an Open Church Official Record of NICE I," issued by the NICE executive office.)
In order to maintain and further encourage this reorientation of attitudes, the Bishops' Conference set up the NICE Promotion Committee and a number of project teams to take action on the main proposals that had been submitted by NICE: focusing the light of the gospel on social issues, setting up structures to facilitate the solving of problems, initiating a program for on-going training in faith, updating the liturgy, and reconsidering the present system of dioceses and parishes.
This Committee and the project teams set to work in April 1988. As the problems they face are basic and far-reaching, a fair amount of time will be needed before concrete results can be expected. Already in March 1989, however, one proposal of the Promotion Committee and a project team for on-going formation was taken up by the Bishops' Conference. With the full cooperation of the Catechists of Mary, the Conference decided to open a Japan Catholic On-Going Formation Center in Nagoya, intending it to be a place where lay people, religious, priests, and bishops could undergo retooling together. This Center was opened in February 1991.
Parallel with the work of the NICE Promotion Committee, other committees, such as the Episcopal Commission for Missionary Activities and the Catholic Committee for School Education, tackled proposals pertinent to their own spheres of competence. In each diocese, a team of lay people, religious, and priests who had attended NICE I began visiting parishes in order to help the results of the Convention penetrate into the parish and at the same time help toward realization of the previously mentioned goals "together" "in joy."
As the next major step forward, the Bishops' Conference decided, at its regular meeting in June 1990, to hold a Second National Incentive Convention for Evangelization (NICE II), which would have "the family" as its theme. Three bishops were elected and put in charge of a secretariat to prepare for the convention. This secretariat, in order to focus the theme and formulate tasks for the national convention, encouraged various meetings and occasions for soliciting ideas from the laity, religious, and priests throughout Japan regarding how to handle the theme.
Most of the ideas collected called for a continuation and development of the guidelines set by NICE I. They urged that the theme should be situated within the overall direction the Church of Japan was moving in and said that the convention should be "a gathering of God's people to think and search together for ways to promote evangelization, the results of which would be formally presented in a report to the Bishops' Conference."
Two years later, in a regular session of the Bishops' Conference (July 1992) a compendium of these ideas was drawn up and the convention's task was formulated: "Finding the Ideal of Evangelization from the Realities of Family Life Building Families Founded on the Will of God." It also announced that the convention would begin on October 21, 1993, and would last four days. Its purpose would be to discover what strength and hope Christ gives families to help them face their problems and sufferings, and to explore how to turn the Church of Japan into a true community of faith that will respond to Christ's expectations.
Each diocese rose to the challenge and made serious efforts to hold discussions at parish and regional levels. In May of 1993, about a year after the formulation of the convention's theme, people responsible for the preparations in each diocese convened to share and coordinate their efforts up to that point. They agreed on the following: First of all, especially since it has the family as its theme, the convention should not be content with mere verbal sharing, but should aim further at a genuine sharing of life experiences, such as was actually taking place and would hopefully continue; in this way the convention would effectively pursue its basic aim, to explore ways of evangelization.
At the same time, however, these discussions were clearly moving in different directions in the various dioceses, and so it was agreed that the national convention would have to start from the real situation in each diocese, deepen discussion, and on the basis of these give clear guidelines for the future outlook of the Church in Japan. It also agreed that, in order to keep the convention from drifting away from its main agenda, it should not attempt to become a forum for solving problems concerning the family.
The Second National Incentive Convention was held as planned, October 21-24, 1993, in Nagasaki, with 230 lay people, religious, priests, and bishops in attendance, representing all 16 dioceses. In their four days of discussions, the delegates sought to look at the family situation as a sympathetic, sharing community. It was pointed out that, even if we can share one another's joys and sufferings, it is difficult to share goods. In order to proclaim Christ to each and every family and aim at a community of faith witnessing to Christ, it was urged, renewal of the Church itself is an essential. These conclusions were summed up in the formal report of the convention, entitled "Outlook Toward a Renewal of the Church of Japan in the Work of Evangelization," which was presented to the Bishops. This "Outlook" proposed the following points for renewal of the Church: 1) understanding and promoting the spirit of sharing, 2) aiming at a community which shares feelings and goods, 3) forming Christians who are able to weigh and evaluate the present situation, 4) achieving a more imaginative liturgy, 5) fostering and strengthening the faith of our young people.
The Bishops' Conference took up this Report in its extraordinary session in December and began to prepare guidelines on what direction evangelization should take in Japan, having in mind the present state of the family. Its conclusions were expected to be announced after a special extraordinary assembly of the Conference in March 1994.