APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS FRANCIS
IN THAILAND AND JAPAN
(19 - 26 November 2019)
MEETING WITH THE BISHOPS
ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER
Apostolic Nunciature (Tokyo)
Saturday, November 23, 2019
First of all, I want to apologize and ask forgiveness because I entered without saying goodbye to anyone: how rude we are, we Argentines! Excuse me for this.
I am very happy to be among you. The Japanese have a reputation for being methodical and workers, and the proof is this: the Pope gets off the plane and they work right away! Thank you very much.
I am happy for the gift of visiting Japan and for the welcome you have given me. I particularly thank Archbishop Takami for his words on behalf of the entire Catholic community in this country. Being here with you, in this first official meeting, I want to greet each and every one of your communities, lay people, catechists, priests, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians. And I also wish to extend the embrace and my prayers to all the Japanese in this period characterized by the enthronement of the new Emperor and the beginning of the Reiwa era.
I don't know if you know, but since I was young I felt sympathy and affection for these lands. Many years have passed since that missionary impulse, whose realization was long in coming. Today the Lord offers me the opportunity to be among you as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith. 470 years have passed since the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in Japan, which marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in this land. In his memory, I want to join you to thank the Lord for all those who, over the centuries, have dedicated themselves to sowing the Gospel and serving the Japanese people with great anointing and love; this dedication has given the Japanese Church a very special face. I am thinking of the martyrs Saint Paul Miki and his companions and of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, who in the midst of many trials gave testimony until his death. This self-offering to keep the faith alive through persecution has helped the small Christian community to grow, consolidate and bear fruit. We also think of the "hidden Christians" of the Nagasaki region, who have kept their faith for generations thanks to baptism, prayer and catechesis. Authentic domestic Churches that shone in this land, perhaps without knowing it, like mirrors of the Family of Nazareth.
The way of the Lord shows us how your presence is played out in the daily life of the faithful people, who look for ways to continue to make present the memory of Him; a silent presence, a living memory that reminds us that where two or more are gathered in his name, He will be there, with the strength and tenderness of his Spirit (see Mt 18,20). The DNA of your communities is marked by this testimony, an antidote against despair, which shows us the path to which we can orient ourselves. You are a living Church, which has been preserved by pronouncing the Name of the Lord and contemplating how He guided you in the midst of persecution.
The confident sowing, the testimony of the martyrs and the patient waiting for the fruits that the Lord gives in his time, have characterized the apostolic modality with which you have been able to accompany Japanese culture. As a result, over the years you have shaped an ecclesial face that is generally very appreciated by Japanese society, thanks to your many contributions to the common good. This important chapter in the history of the country and of the universal Church has now been recognized with the designation of the churches and villages of Nagasaki and Amakusa as places of World Cultural Heritage; but, above all, as a living memory of the soul of your communities, a fruitful hope for every evangelization.
This apostolic journey is marked by the motto "Protect every life", which may well symbolize our episcopal ministry. The bishop is the one whom the Lord has called among his people, to return him as a pastor capable of protecting every life, and this determines to a certain extent the scenario to which we must aim.
The mission in these lands has been characterized by a strong search for inculturation and dialogue, which has allowed the formation of new modes independent of those developed in Europe. We know that, from the beginning, writings, theater, music and all kinds of instruments were used, mostly in Japanese. This fact demonstrates the love that the first missionaries felt for these lands. Protecting every life means, first of all, having a contemplative gaze capable of loving the life of all the people entrusted to you, to recognize in it first of all a gift of the Lord. «Because only what you love can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed "(Speech in the Vigil with the young, Panama, 26 January 2019). Principle of incarnation, which can help us place ourselves before each life as a free gift, above other considerations, valid but secondary. Protecting every life and proclaiming the Gospel are not two separate or opposing things: they call each other and demand each other. Both entail being careful and vigilant about anything that could hinder, in these lands, the integral development of the people entrusted to the light of the Gospel of Jesus.
We know that in Japan the Church is small and Catholics are a minority, but this must not diminish your commitment to evangelization which, in your particular situation, the strongest and clearest word it can offer is that of a humble, daily testimony and of dialogue with other religious traditions. The hospitality and care you show to the many foreign workers, who represent more than half of Japan's Catholics, not only serve as a testimony of the Gospel within Japanese society, but also attest to the universality of the Church, demonstrating that our union with Christ he is stronger than any other bond or identity and is able to reach all realities.
A martyrial Church can speak with more freedom, especially in dealing with urgent issues of peace and justice in our world. Tomorrow I will visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where I will pray for the victims of the catastrophic bombing of these two cities and I will echo your prophetic appeals to nuclear disarmament. I wish to meet those who still suffer the wounds of that tragic episode in human history; as well as the victims of the "triple disaster". Their prolonged suffering is an eloquent warning to our human and Christian duty to help those who suffer in body and spirit and to offer everyone the gospel message of hope, healing and reconciliation. Let us remember that evil does not make people's preferences and is not informed about belonging; it simply bursts with its destructive force, as happened recently with the devastating typhoon that caused so many casualties and material damage. We entrust to the Lord's mercy those who have died, their families and all those who have lost their homes and material possessions. We are not afraid to carry on always, here and throughout the world, a mission capable of raising the voice and defending every life as a precious gift from the Lord.
I therefore encourage you in your efforts to ensure that the Catholic community in Japan offers a clear testimony of the Gospel in the midst of all society. The appreciated educational apostolate of the Church represents a great resource for evangelization and demonstrates the commitment with the broader intellectual and cultural currents; the quality of his contribution will naturally depend on the promotion of his identity and his mission.
We are aware of the fact that there are several scourges that threaten the lives of some people in your communities, which are marked, for various reasons, by loneliness, despair and isolation. The increase in the number of suicides in your cities, as well as bullying (ijime) and various forms of self-need, are creating new types of alienation and spiritual disorientation. How much this affects young people above all! I invite you to pay particular attention to them and their needs, to try to create spaces in which the culture of efficiency, performance and success can open up to the culture of a free and selfless love, able to offer everyone, and not only to those "arrived", possibility of a happy and successful life. With their enthusiasm, their ideas and their energies, as well as with a good formation and a good accompaniment, your young people can be an important source of hope for their peers and give a living testimony of Christian charity. A creative, inculturated and ingenious search for the kerygma can have a strong reflection in so many lives thirsty for compassion.
I know the harvest is great and the workers are few. I encourage you to seek, develop and grow a mission capable of involving families and promoting a formation capable of reaching people where they are, always bearing in mind the reality: the starting point for every apostolate comes from the place where the people find themselves, with their habits and occupations, not in artificial places. There, we must reach the soul of the cities, of the workplaces, of the universities to accompany the faithful entrusted to us with the Gospel of compassion and mercy.
Thanks again for the opportunity you offer me to visit your particular Churches and to celebrate together with them. Peter wants to confirm you in faith, but Peter also comes to touch and let himself be renewed in the footsteps of so many martyrs who are witnesses of the faith; pray for the Lord to grant me this grace.
I ask the Lord to bless you and, in you, to bless your communities. Thanks.
Full Text + Image Source: Vatican.va - Unofficial Translation