01/21/2024, 18.39
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Japan: The Diocese of Nagoya reopens kindergartens to help quake victims

A support centre has been set up in Kanazawa parish to collect aid from other dioceses for survivors of the earthquake that struck the area on New Year Day, killing 232. In the worst-hit towns of Wajima and Nanao, restarting kindergarten services is a priority despite serious difficulties. A “restaurant” has also been set up to provide a hot meal as well as serve as a venue for people to come together.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – A support centre set up at the Kanazawa Catholic Church, in the Diocese of Nagoya, began operating yesterday, in the area most affected by the earthquake that devastated the Noto Peninsula on 1 January.

The facility offers help to those who still have to deal with the serious damage caused by the quake that killed 232 people and left so much destruction even in a country like Japan, accustomed to such phenomena.

The churches of Wajima and Nanao, the two congregations that suffered the most damage, are part of Kanazawa parish, in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Since both are home to very small Catholic communities, without a resident priest, Fr Yoshihiro Kataoka, 41, parish priest in Kanazawa, tried to reach them right away to check on their situation.

Conditions are worse in Wajima, but fortunately, there were no casualties among local Catholics. The church did suffer major damage and will have to be rebuilt.

The nearby Umi no Hoshi kindergarten, which caters to 66 children, is also unfit for use and lacks essential infrastructure. Like in other Japanese communities, the local parish is directly involved in its activities.

Initially, Fr Kataoka was unable to reach Wajima, given the scope of the devastation, while the kindergarten’s head master, Tsuneko Maeda, had to walk more than four kilometres to reach it before he could provide information about its fate. He is now in contact with the children's families, hoping to reopen soon and provide its important services.

In Nanao, the church did not suffer serious damage. Bishop Goro Matsuura of Nagoya was thus able to go there to celebrate the Eucharist together with the small local congregation already on the first Sunday after the earthquake.

"Jesus today is right here, in our reality," the prelate told them. “He does not give us instructions and encouragement from above, but he is with us and bears our sufferings.”

In Nanao, local Catholics are using St Mary's kindergarten as a base to offer help.

Although local power and gas supplies have been restored, this is not the case for water; it might take two or three months for things to be back in order. Still, the kindergarten has reopened, accepting children, especially those whose parents are away for work during the day.

Teachers get water from nearby wells and use it sparingly for toilets, hand washing, and other essential needs.

For this reason, the support centre that opened in Kanazawa is working on providing water in large tanks for sanitation and drinking. It is also here that donations from various Japanese dioceses in favour of earthquake victims are directed.

This makes it possible to provide children with meals and hygiene with complete peace of mind, as well as reduce staff fatigue. Hopefully, all the children will be able to go back to kindergarten as before.

The centre is also working on setting up the "Jinnobi restaurant" in the kindergarten’s parking lot. Jinnobi means to “relax” in the Nanao dialect, and the facility will offer hot meals, but will be more than a simple soup kitchen.

“We will open it every weekend as a place to encourage interaction,” said Fr Kataoka. “We hope that it will draw not only people involved with the kindergarten, but also all those in the local community who need a break to meet again.”

To support these initiatives, the Catholic Church in Japan has started a fundraiser.

"We have already received donations from many people and organisations and we will never be able to express our gratitude enough. We appreciate your prayers and support," writes Bishop Matsuura, who posts updates on the situation on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan.


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