Pope Francis on November 25, 2019, met with youth at the Cathedral of Holy Mary, Tokyo. The following are the three testimonies presented by young people before the Pope spoke.
Testimony by Miki Kobayashi, young Catholic
I’m very honored to have an opportunity to speak on behalf of Japanese Catholic youth. I would like to talk in English directly to you, but at the same time, I would like the audience to listen. So, I’m sorry but I’ll talk in Japanese.
Japanese society emphasizes productivity, so I feel Japan is a very busy country. Unfortunately, in such a society, there are few people who think that it is valuable to take time to pause and reflect on themselves and just pray. However, I think it is necessary in modern life to make round trips between daily life and time apart, going back to the Father for a while every weekend to reflect on what happened in the past week, to pray and then get energy to live the new week. When I went to a school in Timor- Leste, the students went to Mass every night. They prayed quietly and their singing spread throughout the church. I felt the beauty of their lives naturally spent with God. This round trip between daily life and time apart enriches life. We can make time to think and act based on God even though the world around us changes so rapidly.
From one aspect Japanese society is well developed. We need not fear danger to our lives, and many seem to be able to live without believing in something. In such an environment, how can young people meet God? Is there someplace where can they have that encounter?
Because of lack of time, young people may fail to see the uncountable stars and lose a joy-filled chance to experience the greatness of God and their own weakness and realize that God is with them. They may not have friends with whom to talk about and deepen their faith. In Japan, only a minority believes in God, and young people may not be able to find the meaning of faith if they do not see other people who live by faith. It is sad that it is not easy to find the models or attitudes of living faith that young people seek.
I think, too, of the day-laborers in Kamagasaki in Osaka who are treated as outcasts and deprived of social services. Or the way technical interns from foreign countries are often exploited and then discarded. I think that the Church can play some role in such situations. God’s rule of measurement is different from society’s standards or our values. God cares for everyone. Would not the Church come alive if it goes out of itself? In addition, I think we, the people who gather in the Church, must live our faith in society.
I said that Japan is a rich country, but there are a lot of problems to be solved. Globalization is bringing more and more people of various backgrounds to live together. I would like to ask what role the Church can play and how young people can find God within Japanese society. Thank you.
Testimony by Masako Kudo, young Buddhist
Thank you very much for giving me this precious opportunity today. I teach health and physical education at a junior high school.
When I was a practice teacher, for sports day at our school 38 students and I participated in a “centipede race” in which lines of runners hold shoulders with legs linked with a band. Through this experience, I had the great joy of being one with a team working hard together. The students and I all grew, and I was determined to become a teacher.
However, becoming a teacher was not easy. At that time, I practiced morning and evening sutra recitation (prayer) that I had not been able to do before that. Thanks to other people’s support and encouragement, I was able to pass the examinations and finally became a teacher.
In Japan, there is never-ceasing news of bullying and suicide, and students have troubles with their friends and anxiety over teachers or school. In addition, with the spread of mobile phones, computers, game devices and such, many children find communicating or competing with others bothersome and so withdraw into themselves.
In my school, there are students who compare themselves with others and have feelings of inferiority or superiority. They do not like themselves and have low self-esteem, but at the same time, they cannot acknowledge others’ efforts or achievements. When I talk to students with gloomy faces, they give answers like, “I had a fight with my parents. They treat me like a nuisance,” or, “My parents compare me to my siblings.” They tend to become aggressive toward others who do well at school, saying “He/she has a different brain by nature,” and “He/she puts on a good face for the teacher.”
I have come to realize that these students’ attitudes are like my own. I used to compare myself with my elder brother or my friends. I wanted to be better than anyone else and wanted to be recognized by others.
I am grateful that I can understand the feelings of my students, but at the same time, as a teacher, I worry about what I can do for them other than just listening to them. Please give me guidance, Your Holiness, as to what kinds of interaction can help these students become aware of their goodness and value.
Testimony by Leonardo Cachuela, young migrant
My parents are Filipino, and I was born in the Philippines. We moved to Japan when I was in fourth grade. It was very difficult for us to live in another country. I couldn’t speak the language, and there were differences in culture and customs. The problem I suffered from most was bullying.
When I was an elementary and junior high school student, I was bullied by a boy in the same class. In a low voice just loud enough for me to hear, he would say, “no-good foreigner,” “fatso,” “disgusting.” Just by eye contact I felt ridiculed and little by little I could not smile anymore and everyday I only wanted to disappear.
When I thought others were talking behind my back, I was increasingly troubled. I felt like my mere existence was being denied. I never suffered physical violence, but words, stares, facial expressions, and feeling pressure I couldn’t see oppressed me. At school, I spent more and more time alone, avoiding others. I didn’t have many friends during free time, and when I tried to join a group, everyone would leave me feeling like they were avoiding me. This continued every day, and I didn’t like going to school. There were times when I couldn’t go to school for a week. I had a hard time every day, and several times I thought of killing myself.
However, I was saved many times by people at church and by hearing the words of Jesus. There were times when I went to church on Sunday and I felt really comfortable. Gentle words from the priests, leaders, and friends, along with what Jesus taught and the words of the Bible, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. Do not be amazed, I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you, and hold you in my victorious right hand,” all encouraged me.
Bullying is a big problem now not only in Japan but also in various places around the world. In addition, the places where bullying occurs are expanding from environments such as schools to the Internet. There are many people who just want to live happily but cannot survive.
Please tell me, Holy Father, how should we confront the problems of discrimination and bullying that are spreading throughout the world?