Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), Japan © UNESCO / Giovanni Boccardi

The Challenges of Pope Francis’ Trip to Japan, by M. Shintaro Yuzawa

A Visit Under the Sign of Peace to Encourage Japanese Catholics

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The official theme of the Pope’s visit to Japan is “Protect All Life,” a quote from his “Christian prayer in union with creation,” at the end of his encyclical Laudato Si’,” explained M. Shintaro Yuzawa, Japanese married layman responsible for the Japanese Catholic Chaplaincy at Paris. He accepted happily to present the different themes that flow from this main theme for each stage of Pope Francis’ trip to Japan (November 23-26, 2019): nuclear arms, death penalty, protection of the environment, reconciliation, meeting with the new Emperor, and with Japanese Catholics . . .

–Q: In connection with the protection of life, will Pope Francis’ visit entail an appeal to abolish nuclear arms?

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: Yes and, more generally, an appeal to open our eyes to the sufferings caused by war. It’s the meaning of his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The image of a boy of Nagasaki carrying his little brother is the symbol of it: Pope Francis chose it to express his good wishes for peace in the New Year 2018. Nagasaki is also the land of hidden Christians, and the Pope will render homage to the 26 martyrs who were crucified at Nagasaki on February 5, 1597. The timeliness of the meaning of martyrs, who died so we could have life, is important. The theme of the engagement against nuclear arms is much talked about by the Japanese who are not Christians: the anonymous victims of the atomic bombardments witnessed by their dignity that humanity cannot be destroyed by the folly of war.

–Q: It seems that the Pope also has at heart the abolition of the death penalty?

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: There were 17 capital executions in Japan between 2018 and 2019, thirteen of whom were members of the Aum Shinrikyo sect (responsible for the sarin gas attack which left 13 dead in 1995). The Pope will, in fact, meet one <man> sentenced to death — Iwao Hakamada –, a Catholic who has claimed his innocence for 50 years and awaits the revision of his trial.

–Q: The memory of the terrible nuclear accident at Fukushima stays in everyone’s minds in Japan and well beyond: will it also be present . . .

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: The protection of the environment will also be at the heart of the trip. In order to protect all life, it’s also necessary to protect the earth, which is “our common home.” In Japan, the environment is menaced by natural cataclysms, but also by men’s actions. The Pope will see the disasters of the great cataclysm of March 11, 2011, that left 20,000 dead and also caused the nuclear accident in the nuclear plant of Fukushima Daiichi.

–Q: The famous 2018 good wishes card bore the reading: “the fruit of war.” What are the conditions for a durable peace?

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: The theme of forgiveness and reconciliation if truly important to build peace with our neighboring countries, but tensions remain, primarily because of differences on the question of responsibility of acts committed by the Japanese State (Indemnification of comfort women, forced laborers during the Japanese occupation). The question has become sensitive because of the nationalist position of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, of whom the parties request the revision of the Japanese Constitution, specifically Article 9 –, the pacifist article. However, the current new Emperor, Naruhito, and the Emperor Emeritus Akihito are very attached to the present Japanese Constitution, which is causing tension with the politics of the Prime Minister.

–Q: Pope Francis expressed his good wishes to the new Emperor Naruhito and he had Cardinal Francesco Monterisi represent him at the Emperor’s enthronement in Tokyo on October 22. He will meet with the Emperor on November 25. Will it be an occasion to foster relations with Christianity?

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: The relationship of Christianity with the Imperial Family is complex. Officially, the Emperor is the Supreme Priest of Shintoism, descendant of Amaterasu, Sun goddess. However, the Emperor Emeritus had an American Quaker as preceptor. The new Empress and the Empress Emeritus come from Catholic Universities. It is thought that the Emperor’s pacifist position is due to the influence of Christianity on the Imperial Family. It is the reason why we hope that the Pope’s meeting with the Emperor, as well as with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, can contribute to ease the tension with our neighboring countries.

–Q: Pope Francis is the second Pope to visit your country. What can he expect as a fruit for the Catholic community?

–M. Shintaro Yuzawa: To give a new impetus to the life of the Church in Japan. Pope John Paul II’s preceding visit in 1981, gave Catholics in Japan great enthusiasm and aroused a great number of vocations of priests and men and women religious. Pope Francis will meet with young people in Tokyo’s Cathedral. We hope that the Pope’s meeting with young people will spark a new impetus for the Church in Japan, where the number of Japanese members is stagnating and aging. The greatest challenge for the Church of Japan: the majority of Catholics in Japan are foreigners, immigrant workers who have come from Catholic countries – from the Philippines, from Brazil, and especially from Vietnam –, they come to rejuvenate the aging Church. The reception of foreigners is an opportunity for the Church, but mutual tolerance is necessary. The presence of young people, who are open to cultural diversity, is important for the future of the Church.

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Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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