By Christopher Wells
Survivors of the earthquake, tsuanami, and nuclear disaster that struck Japan in 2011 shared their experiences on Monday during a meeting with Pope Francis in Tokyo on Monday.
Kindergarten teacher Toshito Kato, whose town was swept away by the tsunami, said that despite the disaster, “I received much more than I lost”. She spoke of “the importance of teaching children the preciousness of life”.
Tokuun Tanaka, a Buddhist priest whose temple is not far from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, asked how we can respond to natural disasters, saying “honest and humble reflection, deep understanding, and decisions about what to be done are necessary”. He insisted, “The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth”.
Matsuki Kamoshita was eight years old when he and his family were evacuated to Tokyo following the nuclear accident at Fukushima. He said adults must tell the truth about the effects of radioactive contamination.
He asked Pope Francis to join in prayer, “so that we can appreciate each other’s pain and love our neighbours”. And he asked, “Please pray with us that people from all over the world will work to eliminate the threat of radiation exposure from our future”.
Hope for a better future
After hearing the testimony of survivors, Pope Francis thanked them for expressing their “sorrow and pain,” but also their “hope for a better future”.
He asked for a moment of silence at the beginning of his address, “so that our first word will be one of prayer” for those who died, for their families, and for those still missing. “May this prayer unite us and give us courage to look forward with hope”.
Gratitude for aid
The Holy Father thanked those who responded generously to support victims, both with prayer and with material and financial aid.
“We should not let this action be lost with the passage of tiem or disappear after the initial shock”, he said, “rather, we should continue and sustain it”. He appealed to “all persons of good will so that the victims of these tragedies will continue to receive much-needed assistance.”
“No one rebuilds by themselves”
He emphasised the need for the most basic necessities, including food, clothing, and shelter. This, he said, “calls for experiencing the solidarity and support of a community. No one ‘rebuilds’ by him or herself; nobody can start over alone”.
After praising Japan for showing “how a people can unite in solidarity, patience, perseverance, and resilience”, he invited his listeners “to move forward each day, little by little, to build a future based on solidarity and commitment to one another”.
A culture capable of combating indifference
Pope Francis responded to a question from Tokuun about how to respond to major issues such as war, refugees, food, economic disparities, and environmental challenges, saying we cannot confront these issues separately.
We must recognize that these challenges are interconnected. But, he said, “the most important thing… is to progress in building a culture capable of combating indifference”. He said “we need to work together to foster awareness that if one member of our family suffers, we all suffer. Real interconnectedness will not come about unless we cultivate the wisdom of togetherness”.
The abolition of nuclear power
Reflecting especially on the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Pope Francis said that in addition to scientific and medical concerns, “there is also the immense challenge of restoring the fabric of society”. This, he said, raises the issue of concerns about the continued use of nuclear power; and he noted the Japanese Bishops call for the abolition of nuclear power plants.
In an age that “is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress”, he said it is important to pause and reflect on “who we are… and who we want to be”.
A new path for the future
In thinking about “the future of our common home”, he said, “we need to realize that we cannot make purely selfish decisions, and that we have a great responsibility to future decisions”. The testimonies of each of the survivors, he said, remind us of the need to find a new path for the future, a path rooted in respect for each person and for the natural world”.
Hands joined together, hearts united
Concluding his address, Pope Francis said that “in the ongoing work of recovery and rebuilding after the triple disaster, many hands must join together and many hearts unite as one” so that the victims of the catastrophe might “be supported and know they have not been forgotten”.
Once again thanking all those who “have tried to ease the burdens of the victims”, the Pope expressed his hope that “that compassion might be the path that enables all to find hope, stability, and security for the future”. And he prayed, “May God grant to all of you, and to your loved ones, His blessings of wisdom, strength, and peace”.
Watch the full video of the event (with English commentary):