Pope cheers Japanese inculturation, care for migrant workers

Better late than never as the 'missionary pilgrim' finally fulfills his dream to share the Gospel in Japan
Pope cheers Japanese inculturation, care for migrant workers

Pope Francis attends a meeting with Japanese bishops at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tokyo on Nov. 23. (Photo: AFP)

Pope Francis has encouraged the Japanese Church’s inculturation of the Catholic faith and care for migrant workers.

He met with Japanese bishops at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tokyo on Nov. 23 as he began a four-day tour of the East Asian nation after completing a similar visit to Buddhist-majority Thailand.

“I don’t know if you are aware of this, but ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands … Today the Lord gives me the opportunity to come among you as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith,” Pope Francis said.

He entered the Jesuits hoping one day to be sent as a missionary to Japan, continuing work begun by the great 16th-century Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier. Unfortunately, his superiors thought health issues with his lungs made the missionary life impossible.

Describing himself as a "missionary pilgrim," Pope Francis finally fulfilled a more than five-decade-old desire to share the Gospel in Japan.

Finally setting foot in the country for the first time less than a month before his 83rd birthday, Pope Francis told the bishops it "has been long in coming."

He joked with the bishops that the Japanese are famed as good workers, which is why he set to work as soon as he landed.

He outlined the major themes of his Japan visit: nuclear disarmament, the example of the Japanese martyrs, interreligious dialogue and special care for the young.

'Hidden Christians'

Less than half of 1 percent of Japan's inhabitants are Catholic, and many of those are foreign workers from Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries.

Still, the pope said, the history of the Japanese martyrs and of the "hidden Christians" shows the strength and depth of Japanese Catholicism. Japan's rulers began persecuting Christians in 1597 and in 1644, Father Konishi Mansho, the last remaining priest in the country, was martyred. No priest set foot in the country for the next 200 years, yet the "hidden Christians" continued to gather secretly, instruct one another in the faith, pray together and baptize new members.

“We know that the Church in Japan is small and Catholics are in a minority, but this must not diminish your commitment to evangelization. In your particular situation, the strongest and clearest word you can speak is that of a humble, daily witness and openness to dialogue with other religious traditions,” Pope Francis told the bishops.

“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 witness to the Gospel within Japanese society but also attest to the universality of the Church.

"You are a living church that has been preserved by invoking the Lord's name and contemplating how he guided you through the midst of persecution."

The theme the Japanese bishops chose for the pope's visit is "protect all life," which, he said, means seeing and loving each life as a gift.

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"Protecting all life and proclaiming the Gospel are not separate or opposed; rather, each appeals to and requires the other," the pope said.

The lives of young people today need special care and protection, Pope Francis told the bishops.

In a culture so often focused on "efficiency, performance and success," the pope asked them to foster "a culture of generous and selfless love, capable of offering to everyone — and not only to those who have 'made it' — the possibility of a happy and successful life."

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