Posts Tagged ‘Japan tsunami’
This Sunday, Japan will mark the one-year anniversary of a catastrophic tsunami, which flooded villages and wiped coastal towns off the map. Caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the tsunami killed thousands and left unimaginable devastation in its wake.
To commemorate this tragic event, we’ve reposted a reflection from Filipino Jesuit Joseph “Jody” Magtoto about the grueling, and at times, dangerous relief work that volunteers performed in those early days.
By Jody Magtoto, SJ
When the rector of the Jesuit Scholasticate [house of formation -Ed.] in Tokyo, Jesuit Father Juan Haidar, asked me whether I was interested in volunteering for relief efforts of Caritas Japan, I initially hesitated since my command of the Japanese language is not good. Yet I felt moved to respond despite this disability and despite the risks.
We called ourselves the Tokyo 12. I found myself among this group of five men and seven women who responded to Mr Sakagawa’s call to help in the Caritas Japan relief efforts. We did not know each other prior to this trip and had met only once for an orientation meeting April 4. Bony James, an Indian Jesuit scholastic, and I were probably the only Christians in this group.
Tokyo 12 left for the Northern coastal town of Kamaishi on April 5. Kamaishi is one of the towns that was badly hit by the tsunami. This is the town where a huge ship rammed into the tsunami wall. The sidewalks were still full of debris—everything from old toys to the remains of a baby shark.
For one week we were housed in a small convent that was not so much affected by the tsunami since the convent and chapel are located on a slightly elevated area.
Upon arrival, we were briefed about the types of work involved – first, to clean up nearby houses that were devastated by the tsunami; second, to help in the sorting and distribution of relief goods; third, to assist in the preparation of food for those affected by the disaster.
The clean-up operations were gruelling and rather dangerous. Volunteers had to clear up debris in and around the house —thick wooden planks, car parts, waterlogged containers, even a heavy stairwell that the tsunami water had tossed onto the lawn. The debris was at times several metres deep, and we had to dig through the wreckage with a shovel or our hands in order to move the rubble to a nearby lot. There was so much debris that we had to create a makeshift pathway out of disposed tatami mats so as to be able to dump the debris further inside the lot. The dumpsite reeked of things that the tsunami had flung into the city.
We had to proceed with caution. Several volunteers stepped on beams with exposed nails that had rusted under the corrosive salt water and had to get first aid and tetanus shots. I almost met with an accident myself when a heavy beam I was carrying snagged on an overturned car.
Jesuit Jody Magtoto was in Japan this past May, helping in the relief effort for victims of the tsunami. He reflects on how he rediscovered his Jesuit identity in the midst of the rubble:
I had been in Kamaishi for two days by then. Because I had taken some courses in Japanese, I could sort of understand what was going on. But I came to realize that because my words and thoughts were in English, I could not articulate what I wanted to say. I decided then to keep my words to a minimum lest I offend or be misunderstood.
That night, after a long day spent in the tiring clean-up operations and after supping in self-imposed silence, I decided to have some time by myself. I sat on a bench and fixed my gaze on the bittersweet horizon where the melancholy of the ruin caused by the tsunami met the magnificence of the stars.
“Jody-san,” the quiet was broken by one of the volunteers. We had worked together that morning clearing up the debris from one of the houses. He sat beside me, and like me, looked towards the horizon. “I’m not a Christian, so forgive me for asking—what exactly does a Shingakusei do?”
“Well …” I began as I grasped for words, trying to explain in the simplest terms what being a seminarian is all about. He listened intently as I grappled to explain without theological jargon, in a mixture of Japanese and English, what theology is.
“So how many years does it take before Shingakusei becomes a shinpu?” he asked.
I explained the number of years it takes to become a priest, and as briefly as I could, explained the formation in the Society of Jesus. When he found out that I had been a software engineer prior to joining the Jesuits, he paused for a long time, then looked at me and asked, “But why? I mean, why leave all of that? That sounds like a well-paying and stable job.”
I was at a loss for words. How does one talk about vocation to a non-Christian?
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
Jesuit scholastic Stephen Pitts is currently studying at Loyola University Chicago but he spent his summer last year teaching English in Japan. With hopes of returning to Japan this summer, Pitts’ thoughts and prayers go out to the people he worked with and taught last year. Here, he offers National Jesuit News’ readers this reflection on the ongoing crisis in the country.
“This feels fushigi (strange, wondrous),” my friend remarked to me as we waited one spring evening six years ago for the Easter Vigil Mass to begin at a small parish in the northwest part of Kyoto, Japan. He was a sociology major at a local university, always ready to experience new and different things. Burned out on engineering coursework, I had chosen to spend my junior year in Kyoto, Japan. That had been nine months before, and now I stood outside the church, one friend beside me encountering the symbolism of the Easter Vigil liturgy for the first time and another in a white garment prepared for baptism at a key moment in his own long faith journey.
It felt like something out of the history of the early Church: a small community barely large enough to attract attention against the backdrop of a materially prosperous nation, in an ancient capital full of religious landmarks that served more as tourist attractions than as temples. At that moment, the Dutch Franciscan priest emerged from the church with altar server in tow, an elderly man who had spent much of his many years in Japan traveling by motorcycle between various missions in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. He lit the Easter flames and the liturgy began, a rite that connected us to that same early Church.
Despite the many fushigi parts of spending a year in Kyoto, at the end of my junior year, I returned to the US, finished my engineering degree, and entered the Society of Jesus in 2006. My novice director encouraged me to keep up my interest in Japan, but I found myself busy with the program as prescribed by Ignatius in the Constitutions: cleaning toilets, visiting the sick, catechizing the unlettered and somehow learning to pray in the midst of it. My time in Japan felt like something from my past, an important encounter with another culture in terms of my growth as a human being, but I did not expect to return. As a novice, most of my intercultural encounters involved the Spanish-speaking migrant populations I had the opportunity to serve in several places. When I arrived in Chicago two years later to begin philosophy studies as a scholastic, I gave all of my books about Japan away to another scholastic who was interested in them. So he greeted me with a knowing smile six months later when I returned to his room one Saturday afternoon to ask for them back. I couldn’t get Japan off of my mind. What I thought was grief for the past had evolved into a call towards the future.
“Find a way to be useful to the Japanese province and we’ll see,” my provincial said when I told him about my desire to return. Searching the Internet, I found the Jesuit Social Center, a small operation in Tokyo, and emailed the Spanish director, who was a contemporary of Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, the superior general of the Jesuits. The director replied quickly and last summer I returned, to live with the Japanese province scholastics and work at this social center. What I found resonated with me in the same way that scene from seven years ago had.
The scholastics live in a new building on the outskirts of Tokyo that is full to the brim. I found an international community: half Japanese and half foreigners. The older missionaries hail from the U.S. and Europe, the younger ones from South Asia. The Jesuit in charge of formation is a dynamic philosophy professor in his early forties from Argentina and a big soccer fan. The impossible mystery of it hit me from the first day: where did these people get the energy to work in such a difficult mission?
My training as a novice paid off. I spent my mornings sorting books and packing boxes at the social center while listening to anecdotes of Jesuit Fathers Pedro Arrupe, head of the Jesuits in the 1960s and 70s, and Adolfo Nicolas from my boss, who knew both personally. In the afternoon, I travelled to the newest work of the Japanese province, the Adachi International Academy.
“Jesuit education” carries a certain aura in the United States associated with well-established institutions that efficiently serve large populations with ease. Here in Japan, I spent two hours commuting by train to teach one ninety minute English lesson per day to a wide variety of students: a businessman in his fifties who wanted to do development work in southeast Asia; a Filipina teenage girl who had grown up in Japan and wanted to communicate with her relatives when she returned home; a Vietnamese woman who had fled Vietnam and bided her time working in a Japanese factory but saw English as the key to a better life.
Despite the connotation of the word “academy,” the school was located in the cheapest, most difficult to find piece of real estate in the entire neighborhood, which most people in Tokyo don’t even know exists. The whole experience evoked the images of the kingdom of God from the gospels: leaving the ninety-nine sheep to search for the one makes as much sense as spending ten dollars on train fare to teach one person. One day, we had a dinner for the students when none of the invited guests showed up, so we welcomed anyone who came. That night, returning home on the train, I made the connection to the gospel reading and the immediacy of the parallel astonished me.
The kingdom of God, theologians tell us, is already present in small glimmers but not yet fully realized. Against the backdrop of a Church whose size makes it almost irrelevant and an aging province that faces hard decisions about which works to keep, I found incredible vitality: in the Jesuit founder of the school, who could have easily retired instead of embarking on a new apostolate; in the sisters and laypeople who worked with us in the academy; and in the people whom we served, who lived difficult lives as foreigners but managed to eke out a living full of dignity and gratitude. Here, as in the scholasticate, I felt the same mysterious presence of God that defied all logic or reason.
After I left, this past September the Japanese province celebrated the ordination of three native Japanese priests in front of a packed crowd of 1,700 people in St. Ignatius Church in central Tokyo. In his homily, the Archbishop of Tokyo challenged them to be “signs of hope in the middle of the barren desert.” In light of the events of the past few days, the urgency of that call sounds even more.
A recent email from an American Jesuit who has spent fifty years in Japan begins with a nonchalant tone that differs markedly from the nuclear hysteria in the global press: “Life in Tokyo goes on here with little change, except for the frequent aftershocks and reduced train service.” In the 450 years since the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier, a Jesuit, the Japanese church has weathered much persecution, in many cases more severe than the present situation. Let us pray that our Japanese brothers will rise to meet this latest challenge with similar faith, confident in a God who brings hope especially in the direst of circumstances.
Like many, Jesuit Father James Martin watched the tsunami after the Mar. 11 earthquake in Japan unfold on T.V.
For years now, Americans have been used to television that shows “reality that is unreal,” said Fr. Martin, who is the culture editor of America magazine.
“A lot of these reality shows are based on watching people suffer — watching them suffer physically, watching them suffer financially,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that we don’t have to create suffering in this world. There is suffering in this world.”
Martin said that nonbelievers may well have an easier time digesting the images from Japan than believers, because “the nonbeliever does not have to grapple with: How does a good God let this happen?
“Most people can make sense of what theologians call ‘moral evil’ — evil that comes from human decisions,” he said. “But natural disasters and catastrophic illnesses really test the believers’ faith. There is no satisfactory answer for why there is such suffering in the world on a natural level.”
Martin said that no explanation can fully satisfy that question of why we suffer, and “anyone who says they have the answer is either a fool or a liar.”