Vatican City (AsiaNews) - It was a fraternal gathering and a time to share our experience of the mission in Japan with Holy Father. Instead of meeting individual bishops separately this morning, the Holy Father invited all 16 Bishops currently working in Japan for a meeting that lasted more than an hour.
It was not a formal exchange of greetings as I expected. The Holy Father began the meeting asking us to share our experience and talk about the difficulties of the mission in Japan, which we did. The Holy Father showed great willingness to listen to what we had to say and made short comments.
Then Holy Father started to ask us questions about particular topics such as the situation of the family in Japan, vocations, Catholic education, migrant apostolate, environment protection and social apostolate. He showed great concern for the pastoral care of migrants in Japan and encouraged us to put more energy into protecting migrant workers as well as promoting vocations among them.
He was particularly interested in the history of Christianity in Japan and the Hidden Christians. Since the Japanese Catholic Church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of discovery of Hidden Christians in Nagasaki, the Holy Father encouraged us to learn from their good example. They were able to pass on the faith as part of their family tradition, albeit in secrecy and under severe persecution.
The Holy Father also encouraged our work by saying that local bishops are the ones who decide for their own diocese and as pastor of their flock. He said that bishops should not simply do and say what the pope decides or tells them to do. They should not simply obey unthinkingly; they are responsible because they know the reality and situation of local people. They know the best way to evangelise and provide pastoral care and do not have to wait for orders from the centre.
I think this point was very important for us bishops in Japan. On many occasions, in terms of social actions, on political issues or in liturgical matters, when we bishops make decisions based on the local reality and pastoral concern for the local people, we can receive quite strong criticism from our own people that we are not obedient to Holy Father or the Holy See.
Therefore, we were happy that Holy Father really showed his trust in the decisions that local bishops take. Of course, as Japanese Bishops, we shall not just create our own empire, away from universal church. We know the limits. But we are encouraged to be confident in our own decisions based on the local situation and reality.
It was a blessed time to be with the Holy Father for more than an hour and share our experiences and problems. Though the Holy Father did not mention any intention to visit Japan in the near future, we did invite him to visit us. In his response, the Holy Father said he would positively consider that future possibility.