Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Sophia University "could be called the heart of the Church in Japan, perhaps from a historical point of view as well," said Fr Mario Bianchin, regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) as he spoke about the Catholic university's first centenary. In his view, the educational facility "embodies the efforts by Catholics, especially by the Society of Jesus, to proclaim the Gospel in the land of the Rising Sun, and to become 'inculturated" because such efforts entailed a process of inculturation. It is no accident that the church near the university, which is dedicated to St Ignatius, should see many baptisms each year."
More than 4,000 people took part in the celebrations. They included Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Pope Francis was represented by Card Renato Farina who read a message from the Holy Father. In it, Francis stressed St Francis Xavier's commitment to Japan's evangelisation and the great missionary saint's closeness to the university's founders who "followed in his footsteps."
"Sophia began as a theological seminary run by the Jesuits," Fr Bianchin said. "After World War II, it underwent a major expansion. The university truly embodies efforts by Catholics, especially by the Society of Jesus, which in Japan is a major force in education, to pass on the evangelical and Christian message."
Still, even Christian parents "feel compelled by necessity and the [country's] social structure to prepare their children for Japanese society, not the Church," the missionary explained.
"This is considered an absolute must," he noted, "something that comes first, with everything converging towards society. The great challenge is to build a Church that is something 'more'. Japanese society has beautiful values, but we want to push it to be more inclusive, and have room for the Gospel".