“In a serene sky / a rumble / as a Pentecost.” It’s by this verse, composed in the brief Japanese poetic form, the haiku, of which he is a master, that Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda commented on Pope Francis’ decision to include him in the College of Cardinals. The Archbishop of Osaka, who was born in the Archdiocese of Nagasaki and was also Pastor at Hiroshima — the two martyred cities of nuclear folly — confided to L’Osservatore Romano on July 20, 2018, in an interview where he speaks of the role of the Church in Japan, in an increasingly secularized country.
Here is our translation of the interview.
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What did you do when you learned that the Pope gave you the red hat?
At first, I was perplexed and, prey to astonishment, I wondered: why me? I’m not qualified! Without thinking, I composed the verse “In a serene sky / a rumble / as a Pentecost,” because this announcement was truly a thunderbolt in a serene sky. After a moment, I thought that, if it was the work of the Spirit, that same Spirit would also give me the strength to accomplish the task; and recalling the Gospel phrase ”At your word I will let down the nets,” I decided to accept, with humility, the engagement that was asked of me.
What are the main challenges that the Church in Japan must address?
The fact that the number of faithful doesn’t increase and the decrease of vocations of priests and consecrated is the most urgent issue. To halt this tendency, I believe that it’s necessary that the faithful, the clerics and the Religious be always more aware of the importance to live their faith in joy. If one lives this joy of the faith, I’m certain that the number of Catholics will increase, as well as the number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Above all, it’s urgent to evangelize the ecclesial community itself. In fact, although it knows how to intervene, because of a lack of courage or out of modesty, it appears incapable of reacting. On the other hand, I also believe that it’s important to re-appropriate in a certain way the method of the time known as missionary, perhaps by finding new ways of expression of the missionary method, such as the missionary zeal of that time.
What is the role of education in the context of Christian witness in a country where Catholics are a minority?
I think that the realm of education is the privileged milieu for the spread of the Gospel among young people. In the past, up to some forty years ago, a very high number of Baptisms were celebrated thanks to the schools. Today, this happens rarely. Not only is there little inclination to administer the Sacraments of Initiation but there is even a certain abstention from giving religion lessons. At school and in the Universities, as elsewhere, it’s necessary to transmit the Gospel with more courage. To do that, it’s important to form qualified Catholic teachers.
What is the situation in the inter-religious dialogue?
At the heart of the national Episcopal Conference, there is a specific Department that addresses this and, in each diocese, there is a Committee in charge of organizing exchange activities and dialogue with other religions. For instance, for the promotion of peace, there were numerous initiatives in collaboration with representatives of Buddhism and Shintoism; prayer vigils are held periodically together. However, I think it’s important to note that dialogue should already be practiced in everyday life. In a same family, there are persons that belong to different religions. It’s moving to observe how these persons live, respecting one another mutually, in seeking the will of God. I find it important to consider the dialogue also from this point of view.
Can one evangelize in a secularized society?
Precisely because we live in a society where secularization is very advanced, I think that the proclamation of the Gospel is even more necessary. Or rather, it seems really that an increasingly higher number of people are seeking good news, such as that of the Gospel. To satisfy this need, I believe it’s necessary to cultivate enthusiasm and to renew the methods and expressions of the proclamation.
What role do the consecrated play in the Church of the Land of the Rising Sun?
I would say it’s very important: today, despite the aging of the personnel and the decrease of vocations, the different Religious Congregations contribute largely — with activities connected with each one’s charism –, to the evangelization of the society. Suffice it to think of their engagement in the area of education, of health and in other sectors of social life. Then, within the diocesan pastoral they support the parishes and the activities of different Commissions. In particular, the work of the consecrated is revealed important in the pastoral of foreigners. At the same time, as one reads in the Instrument of Work in preparation for the Synod on the “New Evangelization,” with the offer of themselves, the consecrated witness God’s priority over all things and by the means of life in common, they witness the strength and the depth of the bonds that spring from the Gospel. I believe that this witness represents a very important aspect of their mission. The composition of Religious Communities becomes also a form of witness. In fact, they are increasingly international and, in a society, such as Japanese society, which opens slowly to diversity, that witnesses that it’s possible to live “together” beyond national barriers.
What do you do for the numerous immigrants that arrive every year?
The Church’s engagement in this area presents different aspects. First of all, there is the pastoral dimension. Finding themselves suddenly in a different world and culture than those of their origin, immigrants are in need of help to be able to maintain and cultivate their faith. In offering them our assistance, we work so that this is possible. Regular celebrations are planned in the mother tongue of the countries of origin; at the same time, in the parishes, we make an effort to receive them warmly and to walk with them. There is also a social aspect. Migrants who arrive in Japan, meet with several difficulties: they need lodging, must learn the language, they are in need of help in the education of their children, legal advice, etc. We make an effort to offer them assistance in all these areas. In my Archdiocese of Osaka, the Center for Social Activities is in charge of contributing this type of assistance. And then there is a humanitarian aspect. Whether they are Christians or not, we engage ourselves in welcoming them with warmth and in protecting their rights as persons. Finally, priestly and religious vocations are also born among the immigrants. We cannot but rejoice.
[ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]