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Pope addressing  the bishops of Japan at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tokyo, November 23, 2019. Pope addressing the bishops of Japan at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tokyo, November 23, 2019.  (ANSA)

Pope to Japanese bishops: witness to the Gospel and protect life

In his first meeting in Japan, Pope Francis encourages Japan’s tiny Catholic community to witness daily to the Lord by protecting life and proclaiming the Gospel of compassion and mercy.

By Robin Gomes

Hardly an hour after his arrival in Tokyo from Bangkok, Thailand, on the second leg of his 2-nation 32nd Apostolic Journey, Pope Francis met the bishops of Japan, Saturday evening, at the Apostolic Nunciature in the capital.

Recalling that the motto of his Japan visit is “Protect All Life”, he suggested ways of how to witness to the faith and serve life. 

Great witnesses to the faith 

The Pope disclosed his fondness for Japan saying how as a young Jesuit in his native Argentina, he yearned to be a missionary in their land. But today, a dream long come true, he said, he was among them as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith, such as Saint Francis Xavier whose arrival there 470 years ago marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in the country. 

The Pope also mentioned the martyrs, Saint Paul Miki and his companions, Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon and the “hidden Christians” who, amidst trials and persecutions, kept the faith alive for generations, as authentic domestic Churches like the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Protecting life, proclaiming the Gospel 

The Holy Father commended the Church in Japan, saying the DNA of their communities is marked by a witness to the Lord in daily life, which he said is an antidote against despair, that points out the path they must follow.  

According to the Pope, protecting all life means, first of all, having a contemplative gaze capable of loving the life of the entire people entrusted to you, and recognizing it, above all, as the Lord’s gift. Only that which is loved, he said, can be saved and only that which is embraced can be transformed.

Protecting all life and proclaiming the Gospel, he pointed out, are not separate or opposed; rather each appeals to, and requires, the other. “Both entail being careful and vigilant about anything that could hinder, in these lands, the integral development of the people entrusted to the light of the Gospel of Jesus,” the Pope said. 

A Church of witness, dialogue

Shintoists and Buddhists form the bulk of Japan’s some 126.7 million people, with Catholics forming a tiny minority of 0.42%.  This, the Pope said, must not diminish the Church’s commitment to evangelization through a humble, daily witness and openness to dialogue with other religious traditions. 

In this regard, he expressed appreciation for the Church’s hospitality and care to many foreign workers, which he said is not only a witness to the Gospel within Japanese society, but also attest to the universality of the Church. 

Ushering hope, healing, reconciliation 

“A Church of witness can speak with greater freedom, especially when addressing pressing issues of peace and justice in our world,” the Pope said, adding that during his visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima on Sunday, he will pray for the victims and echo the bishops’ prophetic calls for nuclear disarmament. 

The suffering caused by the two nuclear bombs and the triple disaster of a the massive earthquake that triggered a tsunami and crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Pope said, are an eloquent reminder of our human and Christian duty to assist those who are troubled in body and spirit, and to offer to all the Gospel message of hope, healing and reconciliation. 

The Pope thus encouraged the efforts of the Japanese bishops to ensure that the Catholic community offers a clear witness to the Gospel amid the larger society. The Church’s highly respected educational apostolate, he noted, represents a great resource for evangelization and engagement with larger intellectual and cultural currents. 

Social ills

In this spirit, he also encouraged the Church to address Japan’s grave social problems such as loneliness, despair, isolation, suicide, bullying and new forms of alienation and spiritual disorientation, which particularly affect the young. 

“Try to create spaces in which the culture of efficiency, performance and success can become open to a culture of generous and selfless love,” the Pope urged.

23 November 2019, 10:55