Jesuit scholastic Stephen Pitts is currently studying at Loyola University Chicago but he spent his summer last year teaching English in Japan. He continues to communicate via email with his fellow Jesuits in Japan regarding the ongoing crisis after the terrible triple blow of an earthquake, subsequent tsunami and a threatened nuclear reactor meltdown have left the country damaged and trying to recover from the disasters.
Today, he received an email from Jesuit Father Ryuichi Hanafusa, the director of the retreat house in Kamakura, Japan where Pitts made my retreat last July, with the following novena.
The Jesuits here and across the globe continue to pray for the victims of this disaster and for all those providing rescue, relief and support to those impacted by this crisis.
Dear Friends in the Lord,
I am a Catholic priest in Japan. As you know, a terrible earthquake hit Japan and many people continue to suffer now. Although the present situation is still tense and unpredictable, many of those suffering are very calm and many others are trying to help them with all their strength. In the midst of this disaster, I can see much evidence of the goodness of people, and this fact gives me great consolation
I have asked many Japanese Christian Life Community members and Catholic friends to pray together. We will start Novena prayer today. If you are interested, please join us.
Today, March 17, is the memorial of the rediscovery of the Japanese Catholic Church in Nagasaki. The novena will run until March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.
We have three intentions:
1)That the victims (at present 550,000 people) may get sufficient support
2) That the deceased (at present 5,000 people and continuing to increase) may have eternal rest in heaven.
3)That the radioactive leak may stop as soon as possible.
I expect hundreds of Japanese Catholics join this Novena prayer. Please join us, even if you cannot do the whole novena. We would appreciate your prayers for one or two days.
I will offer a brief explanation of today’s memorial. It is a very special day for Japanese Christians. Almost 400 years ago, the Tokugawa shogunate persecuted Japanese Catholics very severely and an estimated 200,000 Catholics were martyred in heroic ways. The shogun’s government thought that it had eliminated Christianity completely from the country, and they continued strict sanctions against Christianity.
After the Tokugawa shogunate fell, and a new modern government began about 150 years ago, many foreigners came to Japan, including some members of the Parisian Missionary Society. When a priest was praying in the chapel on March 17, 1864, several Japanese farmers entered the chapel. They asked the priest three questions:
1) “Do you venerate St. Mary, Our Mother?”
2) “Do you respect the Pope as a leader of the Church?”
3) “Are you celibate?”
He said, “Yes”. Then they said, “You and we have the same heart”.
A large group of Japanese Christians gathered. It was really big surprise that they had kept their faith completely in secret, passing it along from one generation to the next for the previous 250 years. Without any priest and the Holy Eucharist, they baptized their kids, said Catholic prayers, celebrated Christmas and Easter every year. Moreover, they survived as a group in spite of the severe oppression of the government. That French priest thought their perseverance was surely a holy miracle in the Church. This is the reason why we Japanese celebrate this miracle today. We Japanese never give up in difficult situations.
+ God, our Father, You are the true ruler of this World. We praise your holy name. Please have mercy on the miserable people in Japan who suffer from the effects of the earthquake, tsunami, and radioactive pollution. Lord, have mercy on us. Please give us peace, hope, and courage to overcome these difficulties. We totally trust in you. Though we are sinners, we cannot help but trust you. You are our only refuge and safety. Please give courage and strength especially to those who are engaged in direct aid to the victims. We believe in your power to help us. In the name of our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Ryuichi Hanafusa, SJ
Director, Japanese Martyrs’ Retreat House