Niigata (AsiaNews) - In addition to material support, the Catholic Church and ordinary Catholics "must above all provide an example, bearing witness to life as disciples of Christ. This way, through constant prayer, they shall overcome their weaknesses and achieve their objectives," said Mgr Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi Bishop of Niigata, in a pastoral letter to the faithful for the New Year.
In a few weeks' time, the prelate writes, "it will be the third anniversary of the great earthquake that struck Japan" on 11 March 2011. "Since the first day of the tragedy, the Japanese Catholic Church has offered all its support to the Diocese of Sendai," which includes the areas most affected by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. "Help took the form of volunteers working in the area, those who provided logistical support, those who prayed and those who made donations. I would really like to say that the tsunami is now history, but unfortunately, that is not the case. "
Catholic volunteer groups still in the area, he adds, "send us reports almost every day. Common sense tells us that the road to full recovery will not be quick. We must remember all those who, because of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plants, still cannot go home."
"So many people still cannot clearly see the future, suffering from anxiety for their health and for the conditions of their daily life. We can only imagine how many would want to have a normal life, but cannot because of things that are out of their control and which they did not cause."
In his general audience on 6 November, the bishop told the faithful, the Pope said, "Without love, in fact, even the most extraordinary gifts are in vain [. . .], that is why it is necessary that love unite us. Our smallest gesture of love benefits everyone! Therefore, to live out unity in the Church and communion in charity means not seeking one's own interests but sharing the suffering and the joy of one's brothers, ready to carry the weight of the poorest and the weakest.
"This fraternal solidarity is not a figure of speech, a saying, but [is] an integral part of the communion among Christians. If we live it, we are a sign to the world, the 'sacrament' of God's love." Hence, "With solidarity based on fraternal love, we can work together to make our community a sign of God's love, offering our service to others."
Speaking from a missionary point of view, the bishop reminded the faithful of the importance of bearing witness to the world of the choice of being disciples of Christ.
"As we said many times during the celebrations for the centenary of the diocese (October 2012), the mission's priority is to proclaim the Gospel," he said.
"Each one of you should look again at the tasks you took on to find the energy to fulfil your pledge. As we acknowledge our weaknesses, let us pray to God to give us strength so that we can achieve our goals."
In concluding his letter, Mgr Kikuchi put the spotlight on vocations. "Callings to the priesthood are still at a dangerously low level," he said. "Obviously, it is the Lord who calls. This is something that we cannot resolve ourselves. However, some young people might not recognise the call; thus, we must continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This way, young people who are called may find the courage to answer the Lord."