Pope to Japanese Bishops: Be the salt and light of society, even going against the trends

During the pastoral visit of Card. Fernando Filoni, Prefect of Propaganda Fide, to the Land of the Rising Sun, Pope Francis urges the bishops and the Japanese Church to renew their missionary commitment to society, marked by suicides, divorces, religious formalism, material and spiritual poverty. The request to collaborate with ecclesial movements, perhaps in memory of the controversy with the Neocatechumenal Way.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The Church in Japan must constantly renew its choice for Christ’s mission and be both salt and light": This is the appeal that Pope Francis addressed to the bishops of Japan in a letter issued yesterday by the Holy See Press office, marking a visit by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Card. Fernando Filoni, to the Land of the Rising Sun. In the letter which the Cardinal read yesterday to all bishops gathered in the nunciature, the pontiff asks them to redouble their "missionary enthusiasm" and not to fear the "shortage of workers" that characterizes the Japanese Catholic community, about 600,000 faithful out of a population of over 120 million.

Warning against  an "irenic and paralyzing dialogue" with society, the Pope asks them not to resign themselves to "the high rate of divorce, suicide among young people, people who choose to live totally disengaged from social life ( hikikomori), religious and spiritual formalism, moral relativism, religious indifference, obsession with work, and gain, as well as the material and spiritual poverty of the Japanese people. He also asks them to "go against the trend and trust in the Lord".

Finally, Francis exhorts them to collaborate with ecclesial movements. The Japanese bishops resist the presence of different ecclesial movements. In particular, in the past, there have been many questions about the evangelization style of the Neocatechumenal Way, judged by them too overwhelming and "sectarian". For this reason, the bishops wanted to close a "Redemptoris Mater" seminary in Takamatsu, which prepared missionary priests for the far east and that the work of neocatechumenals for at least five years was stopped. Pope Benedict XVI deliberated against this decision. The bishops demanded greater dialogue between the two sides.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

the pastoral visit of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples gives me the opportunity to extend to you my cordial greeting, remembering our meeting on your visit ad Limina in March 2015.

I wish to entrust to you that, whenever I think of the Church in Japan, my thoughts return to the witness of the many martyrs who have offered their lives for the faith. They always have a special place in my heart: I think of St. Paul Miki and his companions, who in 1597 were sacrificed, faithful to Christ and the Church; I think of the innumerable confessors of faith, Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, who at the same time preferred poverty and the path of exile rather than recanting the name of Jesus. And what about the so-called "hidden Christians", who from 1600 to the mid 1800s lived underground, not to recant, but to preserve their faith, and of which we recently remembered the 150th anniversary of the discovery? The long line of martyrs and confessors of faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, shared a profound love with the Son of God, renouncing either his civil status or other aspects of his social condition, all " in order to earn Christ "(Phil 3: 8).


Remembering that spiritual heritage, I turn to you dear brothers who have inherited it, and that with gentle solicitude continue in the task of evangelization, especially taking care of the weakest and favouring the integration into the communities of faithful from various backgrounds. I would like to thank you for this, as well as for the commitment to cultural promotion, interreligious dialogue and the care of creation. In particular, I would like to reflect with you on the missionary mission of the Church in Japan. "If the Church is born Catholic (that is, universal) it means that it was born" outgoing ", that it was born missionary" (General Audience on 17 September 2014). In fact, "the love of Christ pushes us" (2 Cor 5,14) to offer our life for the Gospel. Such dynamism dies if we lose our missionary enthusiasm. For this reason life is strengthened by giving it and it weakens itself in isolation and agitation. In fact, those who make the most of the chances of life are those who leave the safe shore and are passionate about the mission of communicating life to others "(Evangelii gaudium, 10).

I would like to dwell on the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus says: "You are the salt of the earth; [...] You are the light of the world "(Mt 5: 13-14). The salt and the light are in service. The Church as salt has the task of preserving from corruption and giving flavor; as light prevents darkness from prevailing, providing a clear vision of the reality and the end of existence. These words are also a strong appeal to fidelity and authenticity: it is necessary, that salt really gives flavor and light conquers darkness. The Kingdom of Heaven - as Jesus speaks of it - initially appears with the poverty of a little yeast or a small seed; this symbology reproduces well the present situation of the Church in the context of the Japanese world. To her, Jesus entrusted a great spiritual and moral mission. I know that there are no small difficulties due to the lack of clergy, religious and a limited participation of lay faithful. But the shortage of workers can not diminish the commitment of evangelization, indeed, it is an occasion that stimulates us to look for them incessantly, as the master of the vine leaves at all hours to look for new workers for his vineyard (cf. Mt 20: 1 -7).

Dear Brothers, the challenges that present reality places before us cannot allow us resign ourselves or even give way to an irenical and paralyzing dialogue, although some problematic situations create concerns; I mean, for example, the high rate of divorce, suicide among young people, people who choose to live totally devoid of social life (hikikomori), religious and spiritual formalism, moral relativism, religious indifference, obsession with work and earnings. It is also true that a society chasing economic development also creates among you the poor, marginalized, excluded; I think not only of those who are materially so, but also of those who are spiritually and morally so. In this particular context, it is urgent that the Church in Japan constantly renew the choice for the mission of Jesus, both in salt and light. The genuine evangelizing force of your Church, which also comes from being a Church of martyrs and confessors of faith, is a great asset to be guarded and developed.

In this regard, I would like to emphasize the need for a solid and integral priestly and religious formation, a particularly urgent task today, especially because of the propagation of the "culture of the provisional" (Meeting with seminarians, postulants and novices, July 6, 2013). Such a mentality leads above all to young people to think that it is not possible to really love, that there is nothing stable and that everything, including love, is related to the circumstances and needs of feeling. A major step in priestly and religious formation is, therefore, to help those who undertake such a journey to understand and experience in depth the characteristics of Jesus' love which is free, involves self-sacrifice and which is merciful forgiveness. This experience makes it capable to go against the predominant trends and trust the Lord, who does not disappoint. It is the testimony of which Japanese society is so silent.

I would like to also say a word about the ecclesial movements approved by the Apostolic See. With their evangelizing impulse and testimony, they can be of help in pastoral service and in the ad gentes mission. In fact, in the last decades, the Holy Spirit has aroused and inspired in the Church men and women who, with their participation, intend to nourish the world in which they operate, and not often, involve priests and religious, also members of that people that God calls to live fully his missionary life. Such realities contribute to the work of evangelization; as bishops we are called to know and accompany the charisms they are carrying and to make them part of our work in the context of pastoral integration.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I entrust each of you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and assure you of my closeness and prayer. May the Lord send workers into his Church in Japan and support you with His consolation. Thank you for your ecclesial service. I extend my Apostolic Blessing upon you on the Church in Japan and on your noble people as I ask you not to forget about me in your prayers.



From the Vatican, September 14, 2017

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross