12/08/2010, 00.00
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Japan, PIME and the missionary challenges of today

by Gerolamo Fazzini
Interview with Fr. Ferruccio Brambillasca, 12 years in the country of the rising sun and three at the helm of the PIME community. The changes in the logic of mission. The search for new strategies to spread the good news.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - According to many people, mission in Japan – a nation of an ancient religious traditions projected onto an advanced technology and nothing else – is of a most peculiar character, its almost a "mission impossible", when measured by mere parameter of the "results". The Catholics, you know, are only 0.4% of the total population, and although educational institutions and health care promoted by the Christian Churches generally enjoy great favor, the numbers of baptisms have been stationary for some years. In this scenario, the PIME community in Japan has recently celebrated 60 years in the land of the Rising Sun.

To mark this anniversary, and especially the real significance of mission and modernity in Japan today, PIME monthly magazine "World Mission", has devoted a special report this month. Below we publish an excerpt from the interview conducted by the editor, Gerolamo Fazzini, and father Ferruccio Brambillasca, in Japan for 12 years, at the head of the local PIME community of 21 men for three.

As superior what is your vision of the PIME mission.

PIME has historically worked in Japan in two different areas that are very distant from each other. But the scenario has changed over time. In the post-conciliar logic of mission that sees the local Church as the primary subject, we can no longer speak of a “PIME” mission, rather we now have graduated on a cooperation with the diocese, according to our specific charism. At one time we were in two dioceses, we are now active in five (Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Saitama and Tokyo), although concentrated in two main poles. We are no longer an institution occupied with its own works, but at the service of the local church.

Does the local Church still need foreign missionaries?

It seems to me that foreign missionaries are still well accepted, indeed required. When we happened to have to reduce the presence of PIME in a diocese, the bishop complained. Fortunately, PIME is understood as an institution in its own right. Having said that, no matter how much you seek to become inculturated you always remain a foreign priest. Even the way to establish the running of a parish is sometimes different: you can not deny that there have been tensions and both in relationships with priests and with the local laity. I must say that the laity are a great resource, but we must learn to work together.

Does the numeric decline in the institute’s members require particular decisions?

For a decade it was decided to focus on the Kanto zone (Tokyo and outlying areas) as a major pastoral area with the challenges that it brings (the most affected by urbanization), and for reasons internal to the PIME being closer the regional house, it allows confreres to live better the community dimension of the institute, which is essential both in terms of credibility of the witness and to ensure mutual support and pastoral psychology.

Does this mean leaving Kyushu, an area traditionally linked to the history of the institution?

No, moreover, there are still challenges there as well. The point is that we need to totally rethink our model of mission. Together with young people, we are considering the possibility of a micro community not too far from the PIME regional house. Experience has shown that there is need to meet together at least once a week. We are not a religious community, but the need is felt. The solitude here –there’s no use hiding from this – is deeply felt: so I think it is important to take a chance on working and thinking together.

Will this change in strategy mean abandoning the “traditional” forms of mission such as kindergartens?

They are two separate issues. Today nothing prevents a priest if he so desires and is competent in the field to open a parish playschool. Looking ahead, however, I think I can say that it wont be easy to continue in this traditional line, both because of the population decline that is under way, and because the various dioceses tend to entrust to the lay faithful the administration of such centres, with the priests taking on the role of the “teacher’s teachers” and spiritual fathers. Where they work, day-care centers should not be abandoned, because they represent an important pastoral opportunity.

Are you looking for new ways to announce the Gospel?

Being deeply rooted in the pastoral care does not prevent us from thinking of new ways. As in the past – just look at the experience of father Giampiero Bruni and his mission among the factory workers - so today something is moving. An example: Father Marco Villa, in Japan for ten years, has been studying for a long time, in agreement with the Bishop of Saitama, a form of social engagement: he may soon begin work at a counseling center for the elderly and people in need, the logic of the witness of charity, of listening, of being close to the lonely. The establishment of a center for listening should be the first sign of a presence of the Church. I think it's important not to close ourselves in the sacristy. Even father Arnaldo Negri, in the Diocese of Hiroshima, is discovering a "new way", the pastoral care of foreigners: for the time being he is the only PIME officially committed to this, full time.

Regarding interreligious dialogue, how do you see the situation?

In a multi religious environment like this, dialogue is indispensable. But it cannot just be something for specialists, unfortunately there is a feeling that local bishops and priests, but also ordinary Catholics, are not very attentive on this front. The new converts to the Christian faith, in particular, see no need to open a debate with people of other religious traditions, the same faiths from which they came. So, often, it is up to foreign missionaries to keep the dialogue alive. The truth is that we are still at the beginning, one of unsolved problems is identifying partners in this dialogue. Discussions have begun with the Buddhist world, a little less with the Shinto, while Islam is a proportionally small presence.

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