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Japan Catholic News

November 2009


Ichiro Ozawa, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan speaking to reporters after a Nov. 10 meeting with Matsunaga Yukei, president of the Japan Buddhists Federation called Christianity "exclusive."

Japan Confederation of Christian Churches chairman Nobuhisa Yamakita, of the United Church of Christ in Japan issued on Nov. 11 a statement of protest demanding retraction of the remark.

In his remark Ozawa said, "I consider that Christianity is a very exclusive and self-righteous religion. European and American societies that are based on Christianity have now come to a dead end, which tells you what it is all about."

The Confederation statement said to Ozawa, "Your comment was based on your misunderstanding of Christianity. It is nothing but your own comment that is exclusive and self-righteous. We cannot help but doubt your judgment as secretary general of a ruling party of Japan to allow broadcast of it to the international community of which one-third are Christians."

The statement continues, "Believing in Jesus Christ as the Savior who serves all peoples in the world to the end, we Christians work hard for world peace, overcoming the difference of races, borders, and ways of thinking. We demand that your comment be withdrawn."

Father Manyo Maeda from the Nagasaki archdiocese, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ) said, "Because Ozawa aimed at Christianity at large, we find it appropriate that an answer come from the Confederation [rather than issuing a statement from the CBCJ]."

The Confederation is a coalition of the CBCJ, the Anglican Church in Japan and the United Church of Christ in Japan (Protestants).


The institute that publishes the weekly Seisho to Tenrei (Scripture and Liturgy) leaflet used throughout Japan is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Oriens Institute for Religious Research is a research group run by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), and Nov. 28 marks the beginning of activities marking the 50th anniversary of its founding.

"Actually, we only discarded the Japanese-print typewriters that we used in the past just last week," remarked Fr. Mukengeshayi Matata, CICM, 49, who is the fifth director of the Institute.

That fact is somehow fitting for this research organization, which has engaged in evangelization through its publications for so many years. In addition to "Scripture and Liturgy," its current roster of periodicals include Kojika (Fawn), a weekly Catholic magazine for children; Fukuin Senkyo (Evangelization), a monthly magazine focused on proclaiming and cultivating the Catholic faith in Japan today; and the English-language Japan Mission Journal, the only Catholic, English-language quarterly dedicated to topics relating to inculturation and evangelization in Japan.

The Institute also conducts a correspondence course in Christianity through mail. It occasionally produces materials in book format, and in addition sells goods for use by churches. And besides all this, it organizes regular research sessions.

The founder of Oriens was Fr. Joseph Spae, CICM (1913-1989). In the mid-'50s, he began his work at Himeji in Hyogo prefecture, and in July 1959 he moved to Tokyo. He took up temporary residence at a school there in Shinagawa until the Institute's present building in the Matsubara section of Tokyo was finished in 1965.

"Fr. Spae was a visionary. He came up with lots of ideas for evangelization in Japan. Many Japanese would go on to make those visions a reality," explained Fr. Jan Swyngedouw, the late founder's younger colleague, now 74.

Fr. Swyngedouw had been teaching at the minor seminary in Nagasaki, but in 1966 he became a researcher at Oriens, where he has been ever since.

Oriens director Fr. Matata added that Fr. Spae was "a pioneer in ecumenism and interreligious dialog, and was exceptionally and proactively engaged in the promotion of lay involvement, apostleship to intellectuals through the universities and the introduction of Japanese culture to the world."

In the pre-Vatican II era of 1961, when the prevailing attitude was that the Mass could be appreciated despite the fact that it was not understood, the creation of "Scripture and Liturgy" with the intention of bringing together scripture readings that people could understand with a guide to the order of the Mass was the beginning of a new era in Japan.

Thereafter, the Institute drew many people into a community centered on Spae and his successors. It became a locus for collaboration in the fields of pastoral evangelism, liturgy, religious dialogue, ecumenism, and more. It became a formation center for priests, Religious and laity.

"As an institute run by a Religious order, it has value as a place where people can exchange opinions freely," said Fr. Matata.

Fr. Swyngedouw expressed concern about how the institute could adapt in order to survive in the future, given recent staff reductions.

Fr. Matata, on the other hand, is more optimistic. "The Church in Japan recognizes the essential role of Oriens, and if those who want to work on behalf of the Church, those who want to engage in research, come and take up the challenge, everything will be fine," he said. "All the Institute's publications are widely used for religious formation. Making good use of the media is a strength of the Church. Many people of all sorts contribute to our organization."

At present, aside from the director, there are eight regular employees and some part-time workers, as well as many other collaborators. The newest "rookie" is 33-year old Mizuho Saito, from Tokuden Church in Tokyo, who joined in November of last year. She is in charge of magazine sales.

"I grew up reading Kojika, so working here is a bit of a strange feeling. I feel like I came here as a way of repaying a favor," she said.

At the anniversary ceremony on the 28th, a number of participants will hold a panel discussion on "Evangelization in 21st Century Japan." Panelists will include Fr. Hiroshi Sasaki of Sendai, a priest with long connections to Oriens; Sr. Masako Hasegawa of the Daughters of St. Paul; and Kuniharu Tabata, professor at Shirayuri College. It is also expected that Archbishop Takeo Okada of Tokyo will preside at a prayer service. Before he became a bishop, Archbishop Okada served as head of the Mission Research Institute, a sub-organization of Oriens.


migrants The annual national workshop of the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (J-caRM) was held at Daimyomachi Church in Fukuoka prefecture Oct. 26-28. Some 70 participants, mainly from Kyushu, gathered for the workshop.

Following an opening address by Fukuoka's Bishop Ryoji Miyahara and a biblical exhortation by J-caRM chairman Bishop Daiji Tani of Saitama, Yukio Inoue from the NGO "Living with Asian Migrants in Fukuoka" talked about his group's experience in supporting the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Changes in the immigration laws in 1990 increased migrants descended from Japanese who had emigrated from Japan. Since then, Inoue has been involved in their support, especially for the children of non-Japanese parents and women suffering from domestic violence. Having reviewed their present situations and looking at their future he emphasized children's education as the most important issue.

He also pointed out the poverty lying behind immigration as the fundamental problem. Quoting the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution that says, "All peoples have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want," he declared that the two, poverty and freedom from want, are challenges we must confront. He concluded that the spirit of bearing each other's pains and sufferings is required to accomplish co-existence with migrant workers.

On the second day, participants formed two groups for study tours. One group visited the Ohmura immigration detention center. The other went to a site in the Chikuho area of Fukuoka prefecture where abducted Koreans were forced to labor during World War II.

On the last day, small-group discussions were held to exchange views, talk about local activities and confirm what to do next.

Shigeki Yamamoto from Nishimachi Church in Nagasaki said that he was deeply impressed by the case of Koreans' forced labor.

He said, "Ordinary folks living a humble but peaceful life in the countryside were forcibly taken away from their homes all of a sudden, separated from their families and forced to do hard work at the cheapest pay till a miserable death. Though we saw an epitaph for them, Korean tombs were only made of rough stones, next to which stood gorgeously designed Japanese tombs. We offered prayers, but a mixed feeling stirred within me. I feel that we need to continue actions for peace so as never to repeat such war crimes."


Japanese members of an international volunteer organization started in England to support people considering suicide are working to reduce Japan's record-breaking suicide rate.

At the Osaka Suicide Prevention Center established in 1978 by Yukiko Nishihara and the Tokyo Suicide Prevention Center established in 1994, those who are considering suicide can call any time for a personal consultation. The centers are affiliated with Befrienders Worldwide, an organization that operates in 37 countries with around 31,000 volunteers.

Suicide rates in Japan have exceeded 30,000 each year for the past decade. With 24,846 suicides reported through September, this year's figures are approaching the 2003 record of 34,427.

The Befrienders office in Tokyo is at the Christian Church of Siloam, where Nishihara is now a member. Volunteers answer three telephones from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. every night, handling as many as many as 50 calls. A befriender (volunteer consultant) will answer and listen to the caller with an unconditional, uncritical ear, remembering that behind the phrase "I want to die!" is a cry for help.

Some callers contact the befrienders saying that they are about to kill themselves. As soon as the befriender understands the imminent danger, he or she extends an invitation for the caller to come to the office, or, if the caller is willing, the befriender will visit the caller, making every attempt to break through the bottomless sadness that the caller may be feeling.

Nishihara, 75, said she found her vocation about 40 years ago while living in Osaka. She received a call from a youth who had been coming to her church. Though she handled it like a normal call, she found out later that the youth killed himself that day.

Commenting on the experience, Nishihara said, "When I heard about the Lifeline telephone counseling service in Tokyo where people consumed by worry can turn 24 hours a day, I thought, 'This is it!' and helped establish the Kansai Lifeline. But when I thought of doing something for children sending out SOS signals, it was painfully clear to me that they needed to be met face-to-face."

Upon the founding of the Osaka Suicide Prevention Center, Fr. Chad Balur of the Church of England came to Japan from England to encourage Nishihara. Fr. Balur, a founder of the suicide prevention organization The Samaritans, offered his expertise to Nishihara.

Like Nishihara, Fr. Balur had a similarly troubling experience that inspired him to work in suicide prevention. His first work after becoming a priest was to preside over the funeral of a girl who had committed suicide. At the time, those who had killed themselves were not allowed to be buried in the church cemetery. This upset Fr. Balur because it smacked of blaming the suicidal for a lack of faith.

And so he began his work as a "Samaritan," offering an ear to those leaning toward suicide, to be there for them and become a friend, if only temporarily. The activity is currently known as the Befrienders.

The Befrienders Tokyo branch normally operates with 60 volunteers, and sometimes the befrienders are confronted with insults during consultations.

Nishihara said, "For us to be able to continue our work, after consultations we have to be able to talk with each other about the terrible things we hear. We have to befriend each other. When we do that, we can feel at ease. Knowing our limitations, after putting down the phone, we pray, 'Lord, we leave it to you.'"

The Tokyo Suicide Prevention Center has opened a coffee house for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and for those who, in general, are seriously weary from the stresses of the world. The main coffee house accepts visitors on Tuesdays from two to four p.m. There is a second Coffee House at Meguro Catholic Church open on Fridays from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

At present, those inspired by Nishihara's work are, with her support, establishing suicide prevention centers in Miyazaki and Kumano.

  • To reach the Befrienders in Tokyo, available from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, call 03-5286-9090.
  • In Kumano, from 7 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, call 05-9792-2277.
  • In Osaka, open 24 hours a day every day, call 06-4395-4343.
  • In Miyazaki, from 8 to 11 p.m. on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, call 09-8577-9090.


Following three years of work to merge three Catholic health care associations, the first general assembly of the Conference of Japan Catholic Medical Care Associations was held in Nagasaki, Oct. 23-24, attended by about 260 professionals.

The Conference is a union of three associations; Japan Catholic Care Facilities Association, Japan Catholic Medical Association and Japan Catholic Nurses Association.

Three successive meetings for the development of union since 2006 resulted in a July 2008 agreement regarding its official name, by-laws and holding a general assembly with the theme "medical care to serve patients."

A variety of subjects were presented in the assembly.

In his keynote speech, "What is life in the eye of a pathologist?" Wataru Mori, former president and professor emeritus of Tokyo University, spoke of his view of human life as a medical scientist.

Professor Shunichi Yamashita, dean of Nagasaki University's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, spoke of "A-bomb survivors and today's care." He dealt with medico-social aspects of A-bomb treatment, speaking of the hard and painful lives of the survivors. He said that his experience at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the site of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, convinced him of the necessity of political approaches as well.

He said, "As Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cities in the world that were afflicted with A-bombings, both can claim the moral high ground on A-bomb elimination. No one can deny their claims and international diplomatic endeavors on behalf of peace free of nuclear weapons. U.N. General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto referred to this right when he visited Japan last summer."

He continued, "Such policies require a balance of ideals and reality and a combination of theory and practice. I believe that science has an important role to play in such approaches."

In an afternoon symposium, physicians, nurses, lawyers, social workers, and priests reported their experiences in "Ethical Issues in Terminal Care."

The second day opened with a talk by Yokohama diocesan priest Michitaka Yamaguchi on "The oppressed and poorest in Asia," followed by reports by Hiromi Kato, an acupuncturist from the Fujisawa church in Kanagawa prefecture, and Takako Sakai, an artificial dialysis specialist in Nagasaki.

In the afternoon Hasuda Taiji, director of Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto, Kyushu and Yukiko Tajiri, head nurse of the hospital reported on the "Stokes Cradle" they set up in 2007. The "Cradle," similar to a bank's night deposit box, provides a means for people to anonymously deposit infants into the hospital's care rather than abandoning them.

The Cradle founders reported that over 40 babies have been placed in the Cradle since its inception and all were now in the hands of foster parents. In the meantime, the number of abandoned babies has decreased in those two years while women's visits for prenatal advice have increased since the news of the "Cradle" appeared in media. They asserted that the "Cradle" has saved the lives of many mothers and babies.

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sister Masako Sato, president of the Japan Catholic Care Facilities Association, reflecting upon the Assembly, said, "Seeing so many enthusiastic professionals come here we feel we fulfilled its purpose. In addition, we have many participants from non-medical professions. I feel the posture of the Church is beginning to change from an inward looking to an outward looking one. We reaffirm that one role of the Conference is to help the Church open doors to society."

Japan Catholic Nurses Association president, Kazuko Usujima, a member of the Secular Institute of Mary, commented, "We Catholic nurses now can afford to serve patients better hand in hand with physicians and care professionals. We hope that through collaboration of the three we can contribute to the enhancement of the quality of Catholic medical services."

Japan Catholic Medical Association president, Doctor Buichi Ishijima, honorary director of St. John's Society Sakuramachi Hospital and chairman of the assembly, said, "Representatives of the three associations became one in spirit, and helped things move smoothly. I think it was the Holy Spirit that worked there."

He continued, "A general assembly is something like a symbol. Down-to-earth action begins from now. I am looking at exchanging staff and sharing knowledge and information on ethical problems. The study and spread of Catholic principles should be integrated. They have been separated in such a way as the Medical Association looked at students and the Care Facilities Association at facility workers. A unified plan for courses and programs, when developed, will contribute efficiency to the three member associations."


TOKYO CHILDREN APPLAUD ARCHBISHOP’S CRUCIFIXION Children attending a Passion Play starring their archbishop as Christ cheered the performance, which featured his crucifixion.

Some 800 children and their teachers from over 40 parishes took part in the Tokyo Archdiocesan Church School Committee's 10th annual children's Mass at the Tokyo Cathedral Oct. 11.

The theme for the day was, "This day, you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43) — Arms Wide with Love."

Each parish group prepared a decorated cross, ranging in size from 50 cm to over one meter tall. The crosses, along with the children's letters to Jesus, were presented at the offertory.

Instead of the Gospel reading, Tokyo Archbishop Takeo Okada, sisters from the Miyazaki Caritas convent and candidates for baptism put on a passion play. The archbishop, acting the part of Jesus, shouldered a cross and fell over and over again as he walked, before being crucified at the end. The children broke into enthusiastic applause following his performance.

After Mass, the assembly went outside for recreation until the early evening, filling the air with laughter.

Church School Committee chairman Fr. Keizo Inagawa said of the large gathering that in light of Japan's declining birth rate, "I think [getting together] encourages one another."

He added, "The leaders make minute preparations for the sake of the kids every year. That's inspiring, too."

The first Children's Mass was celebrated as part of the activities marking the Great Jubilee Year 2000.


A meeting of diocesan social communications staff at the Catholic Center in Tokyo Oct. 4-7 explored the issue "How to cooperate with the local press to promote Catholic media." Twenty-seven people took part, including representatives from 11 dioceses, Catholic publishers and media.

On the first day Nagasaki diocesan Father Koji Nakada spoke on "Our experiences of news agencies pertaining to the recent beatification ceremony."

He pointed out the importance of establishing a unified source for all information from churches because he saw that inadequate information on the date of the celebration had been reported through some of the press. Prior arrangements between the relevant churches are essential to avoiding confusion and false reports. It is also important, he said, to hand out news releases and notices directly to the press. By doing so he could explain to them the meaning of beatification in advance and urge them to attend.

Fr. Nakada complained that even such for an important event as the Beatification he faced a shortage of staff. He also commented that the Church des not fully understand the importance of social communications.

Cooperation between dioceses was another discussion theme. Father Eichi Shimosako, director of the Social Communications Desk of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) chaired the session presenting four subjects: what news and photos to pass to other dioceses and how to do it, providing information about coming events or new books, shared home pages, and building up a database for common use.

Responses from the floor included suggestions that obituaries be distributed to the social communications desks of the dioceses, that book news be obtained from publishers and posted in diocesan bulletins, and that home pages obey copyright regulations.

The matter of a common base was dealt with in conjunction with in a session on evangelization through the Internet. Shigeki Chiba, chairman of SIGNIS Japan, a Catholic media organization, announced plans for a SIGNIS News Network (SNS), an Internet television system. The meeting welcomed the initiative and agreed to build a common database by using the SNS server. This would allow Catholic media to make the first step forward on a plan that had long been delayed because of the lack of network facility and persons to operate it.

Views on the use of Church social communication were exchanged. Cases of people who came to a parish after having viewed a parish's home page were introduced. The question of editorial policies, especially whether home pages should be inward-looking or outward-looking was debated. Enrichment of the next World Communication Day in 2010 was also discussed.

During informal conversation between the sessions, money for the Church's social communications efforts became a topic of conversation. While participants seemed to know little of the sum spent on bulletins, they assumed it to be fairly large. In fact, their parishes subsidize the production costs. They realized that information is expensive.

On the third day, after confirming the agreements and decisions made during the sessions, the meeting closed.


A seventeenth-century letter detailing the names of 120 missionaries and Japanese Christians martyred during the persecution during the rule of the Edo shoguns was discovered in Tokyo in March of last year.

The document, now archived in the Sophia University Christian Collection, has been published in a Japanese translation from the original Italian with a commentary as The Record of 120 Martyrs of Japan (Yushodo Publishers, ¥21,000).

According to Jesuit Father Toshiaki Koso, chairman of the board of the Sophia School Corporation and director of the Sophia Institute Christian Collection, the writings were recorded on two sheets of Japanese paper 395 mm wide by 270 mm long, each folded in half to make two leaves, for a total of eight pages. The eight pages contain 120 short biographies, including execution details, of 120 martyrs executed during a period of about one year starting in September 1632.

The priest, who made the discovery and supervised the creation of the commentary, explained that of those recorded, 24 martyrs are listed as Jesuits, six as Dominicans, two as Augustinians, three as Franciscans, and four others were secret Augustinians. Lay Catholics were also recorded, six of whom are among the 15 canonized companions of St. Thomas Nishi, six more of whom are among the 205 Blessed of Japan, and three of whom were beatified along with Blessed Peter Kibe and 187 martyrs last year.

Fr. Koso discovered the records in March of last year at a book fair in Tokyo. It is unusual that such records would be found here and it is unknown how the letter came back to Japan. The purchase was made with funds provided by the Jesuits in Germany.

Commenting on his finding the document during preparations for the beatification of Peter Kibe and the 187 martyrs, Fr. Koso said, "I feel it was fate that led to the publication of these writings."

The document has been identified as the basis of a Portuguese report archived in a Jesuit collection in Rome. Research also suggests it is highly possible that the author was Father Giovanni Battista Porro, S.J., a priest in hiding in Japan during the persecution of Christians.

Fr. Koso described the probable origin of the report.

"At the time, since there were no telephones; all communication was done by mail," he said. "As was customary in the Japanese correspondence system established in the time of Father Valignano, letters were entrusted to sailors before the departure of Portuguese ships, and delivered to the Jesuits in Rome. We understand from the fact that the pages were folded small, that the recently discovered letter was passed along secretly by Fr. Porro."

In 1614, Fr. Porro began his life as a missionary in Japan in secret, traveling all over the land in disguise, risking his life to discover the truth of the executions of the martyrs. He was one of five priests, three of them Jesuits, who were captured in 1638-9. Fr. Porro and another Jesuit apostatized while undergoing torture. The third was Peter Kibe who was beatified as a martyr last year. The records of the martyrs of Yonezawa, beatified along with Kibe, were written by Fr. Porro.

Fr. Koso said of the publication of the old Christian records, "They provide an opportunity to know the facts about martyrs throughout Japan."

He continued, saying, "Becoming a martyr and serving as a beacon of faith is a sacred thing. It forces us, too, to take a hard look at the reality of martyrdom and religious oppression. But first, in the organization of a body of faith during a priest shortage, before the emergence of martyrs, it's important for us who live in the present society to learn bit by bit about the foundation of lives of faith, reclaiming a sense of what that is ."

There are 13,000 volumes contained in the Christian Collection, but many of the valuable records are written in foreign languages. Fr. Koso emphasized the importance of working with language and Christianity specialists to provide Christians and their communities the chance to read these priceless materials in Japanese.

For details, call the Christian Collection at 03-3238-3538.


Several parishes grouping together with one or a few priests or sisters to form local cooperative mission ministries is becoming increasingly common throughout Japan. The Sendai diocese has nearly 20 years of experience of such cooperative ministries.

In Sendai city, six parishes form the Sendai Central District Cooperative Mission Ministry, lead by Fr. Akihiro Watanabe. In 1991, the Tatamiyacho, Ipponsugi and Motoderakoji Churches began working together, and were joined by Nishi Sendai and Higashi Sendai Churches three years later. Finally, Yagiyama Church joined in 2003.

The three priests of the district all reside at Motoderakoji, and rotate Sunday Mass duties among the six communities. The parishes are all relatively close, with the furthest only 20 minutes away by car. The rest can be reached by bicycle.

Living together, the priests make a habit of holding a weekly meeting that enables them to keep an overview of the various communities and their own responsibilities.

One Saturday evening every two months, the committee chairmen of the six churches meet with the priests for dinner and discussion as the Central District Steering Committee. In the intervening months, two to four members from each parish get together for Central District Church Correspondence Meetings. These two sets of meetings comprise the greater part of the cooperative body's official schedule.

In particular, the steering committee has a special role to fulfill as a place for the free exchange of opinions. Discussion centers around topics of importance in the parishes, and those issues are revisited at the correspondence meetings the following month. The correspondence meetings are mechanisms for consultation and decision-making.

However, the steering committee's role is not solely preparation.

Yasuo Sato (72), chairman of the Higashi Sendai Church, said, "The main goal is for the committee chairmen to express individually their concerns and difficulties, those that they can't confide in anyone else, as well as what's made them happy, sharing their joyful experiences. Some topics we don't make public."

He added, "Our specialty is making curry rice every time, passing around plates to each other, and talking and eating together. We hear what things other churches are doing."

Since a priest is not present all the time, the pressure on the members weighs heavily. One recent concern has been the necessity of purchasing antiseptic to combat the threat of the H1N1 virus.

"When talking about our concerns, individual churches have different viewpoints, and these guys are sensitive to that," said Sato. "It's only by talking about things that we can be certain of reaching a good understanding. We can get advice from the priests, too."

According to Sato, it is not hard for participants to talk frankly. "We are one body, united. We are not random churches. We are one Church in dealing, for example, with financial worries or whom we should invite to lead our parish retreats."

Since the terms of office of the chairmen are different, as decided by each church, every year the makeup of the meetings is a bit different. Of the current membership, Naoyuki Hara (56), chairman of Tatamiyacho Church for six years, has the most experience.

His comment on the system was, "There's a priest shortage. We just have to keep moving forward."


VOLUNTEERS PRESERVE DESERTED CHURCH ON SITE OF KIRISHITAN REFUGE, MARTYRDOMS Twenty-four people attended an Oct. 4 Mass led by Sendai bishop Tetsuo Hiraga marking the inauguration of an association for the preservation of Ohkago Church. The core members of the group have been looking after the church for 15 years, weeding the grounds, maintaining the building and keeping the memory of the area's martyrs.

The Ohkago Church in Fujisawa, Iwate prefecture, is in an area where many Kirishitans (Christians) lived after fleeing the early seventeenth century persecution of the Edo Bakufu (Tokugawa shogunate government). Eventually more than 300 Kirisitans were martyred in the area.

Now the church is a mission station of the Yonekawa Church with no Sunday Masses.

About 15 years ago a group of volunteers began to work for the preservation of the church. They cleaned and weeded two or three times a year, but the deterioration of the building led them to organize an association that would seek donations from outside. This was how the Association for the Preservation of Ohkago Martyrs Church was born. The bishop was elected honorary advisor and a diocesan priest, Father Masashi Takahashi, an advisor.

Describing his first visit to Ohkago, Makoto Miyagi, a parishioner of the Kita-Sendai Church, said, "What we saw were the deserted sanctuary and sacristy. I felt a conviction that I should do something about them."

Besides working on the church grounds, the volunteers repaired a path to a nearby cave where Kirishitans are said to have celebrated Masses in hiding.

Miyagi continued, "On that day, after the church was cleaned up, a Mass was offered. It was terribly hot. Everyone was sweaty. With all the windows wide open we prayed, hearing cicadas chirp outside. It turned out to be a Mass I could never forget. We are now in our sixties. We are determined to continue as long as we can, but when we become unable to do so, things may fall back to nothing. I think it is time for us to prepare for the future by basing the activity on a more open and public support system."

Bishop Hiraga exhorted the group, saying, "Your sympathy with the martyrs and your volunteer spirit are praiseworthy. We thank all of you for everything you've done for the church."

About 30 members consisting of Sendai diocesan Catholics and local people from Fujisawa are currently members of the association. Membership is open to all for a fee of ¥3,000. For details contact "Hoyu" at 022-719-9117.
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