The Catholic Church in Japan is still managing to find ways to proclaim the Gospel, despite many hurdles springing up to block evangelization efforts, Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo said.
“In Japanese society, it is difficult to find tangible success in missionary activities,” he told Catholic News Agency recently.
Language and cultural education in communities were once a good way to reach out to people to try and boost Catholic numbers in Japan where only about 1 percent of the population adhere to the faith.
“In the past, foreign missionaries succeeded in opening classrooms, gathering people through English and cultural classes. However, these have been replaced by the initiatives of business enterprises,” Archbishop Kikuchi said.
Whereas in the past English was spoken by few and provided a good tool to reach out to people, English education has since become compulsory in many schools, not just Catholic, and is also taught in foreign-language cram schools known as eikaiwa.
This has edged out amateur foreign language and cultural classes that formed the backbone of Catholic missionary efforts, Archbishop Kikuchi said.
Efforts in prestigious Catholic high schools and universities like Sophia University in Tokyo are on the wane, he said.
These schools should be independent from national politics, unfortunately they are tied up with state subsidies, and are gradually losing their uniqueness, with only the name ‘Catholic’ remaining, he told Catholic News Agency.
“Many priests, religious and the laity are completely losing their involvement with them,” Archbishop Kikuchi said.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Church has spent time in recent years on disaster relief projects, the archbishop said.
This included setting up volunteer centers in areas hit by an earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 that killed about 20,000 people. Their support activities still continue, he said.
“These activities may not lead immediately to the reception of baptism, but there is hope that many people who were touched by the spirit of the Gospel would actually be led to the Church.”
Another evangelization tool, the archbishop said are Catholics from abroad settling in Japan.
“Those who have settled in marriage and built their homes in rural areas make it possible for the Gospel to be brought in areas where the Church had never had an opportunity to get involved,” Archbishop Kikuchi said.
Many of the immigrants are from the Philippines who make up the fourth largest foreign community in Japan and are estimated to be about 250,000 strong.
They form a large proportion of Japan’s laity, are regular churchgoers and interact with religious communities in both rural and urban areas.
An important task is for the clergy to encourage foreign nationals in Japan to become aware of their missionary vocation as Catholics, the archbishop said.
“Pastoral care for foreign nationals … is not merely a service to welcome [guests], but rather a duty to make them aware of their vocation as missionaries,” he said.
Catholicism in the East Asian country will receive a boost from the pope’s visit later this month.