Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Sunday, March 11 marks a year since the great earthquake in eastern Japan. That earthquake was the most devastating natural disaster since the great Hanshin-Awaji, which struck the country on January 17, 1995, and involved the entire eastern area of the country. To commemorate the victims and to hasten reconstruction in the disaster areas, I ask all the Catholic churches in Japan to celebrate Masses and to gather in prayer on the anniversary day.
What happened on 11 March 2011 will never be forgotten. The earthquake, of great intensity and long in duration, has left us speechless. Immediately after the first shock came the news of what had happened in the country; even those who were not directly affected by the earthquake suffered a tremendous shock.
In particular, we were shocked by the horrible tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people and caused immeasurable damage. What's more, to this was added the incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that disrupted the daily lives of many people and made them live in constant fear of radiation.
However, after this earthquake, we rediscovered how wonderful the support was of our people and the human community. On television, shortly after news of the earthquake, we saw young people in nearby Korea parading with signs written in English that read "We love Japan. Japan will overcome this pain." The donations started pouring in from all over the world. In addition, experts from around the world have offered generous support to keep to a minimum the damage caused by the nuclear disaster.
From a national perspective, people from all over Japan have moved to the affected areas and engaged in volunteer activities: preparing meals, removing debris, but also talking to people affected by the disaster. Faced with such a cruel and incomprehensible reality, we were very impressed and encouraged by so many people, Japanese and non, who have made every effort to help the victims. Unforgettable was the speech of the King of Bhutan to the Diet, as well as the warm encouragement and support from all over the country sent to the affected areas.
Among other things, on the very day of the great earthquake we saw so many touching stories of those who saved the lives of others at the cost of their own, stories that may have inspired all the support we later received. I remember how the owner of a company tried to save all his young Chinese employees - who were receiving their training - by making them move to a nearby hill. He stayed in order to save them, and was struck by the tsunami and died.
Meanwhile, the operator of a municipal television station stayed in her office to continue to transmit the alarm evacuation with a microphone. She worked desperately to save as many lives as possible and, because of this effort, was killed by the tsunami.
It's been a year since the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear accident: a sequence that has led us into a situation of enormous pain. As Catholics, we pray that the victims may enjoy eternal rest in the hands of God, and that the areas affected by the disaster may be rebuilt as soon as possible so that people who live there can also rebuild their lives.
To commemorate the first anniversary of the great earthquake in eastern Japan, we Japanese bishops will celebrate Mass in every diocese, to commemorate the victims and pray for the reconstruction. Moreover, there is a prayer meeting planned with members of other Christian denominations. I hope that these Masses and meetings are attended by many people as possible, so as to unite the nation in prayer. Obviously it is important to celebrate these "official" prayers, but I want to encourage the faithful to continue to pray also in private.
The Japanese Catholic Church has received offers to help the victims, both from the Japanese faithful and from the churches of other nations. With these funds, the voluntary activities organized by the Diocese of Sendai and Caritas Japan are continuing, thanks also to the effort of those who are not Catholic. The efforts of religious institutions, male and female, are also continuing, and of the three ecclesiastical provinces of the area.
The activities of individuals volunteers, who come from all the dioceses in the country, are slowly being coordinated with the others. This commitment will continue for several more years. So, we are constantly in need of volunteers and commitment. I ask you all to continue to support the reconstruction as you can, through prayer and action, now and in the future.