Looking at the future 20th Anniversary of the Center & 100th Issue of the Bulletin

Ando Isamu S.J. (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo) 
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 100 / February 15th, 2001

The new century started with many celebrations. We, at the Tokyo social center, celebrate this year the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the center. This is our 100th issue of the Social and Pastoral Bulletin. We keep good remembrances of so many people and groups we have met during all these years, and are grateful to all those who cooperated graciously to produce each one of the Bulletins.

There are many ways of looking at the past years, but to me this was a necessary period of time to lay the foundations for the years to come. I am fully aware that our lay staff and the young Jesuits will develop, from now on, much of the work already started.

In the center we have tried to be, as much as possible, professional and, at the same time, faithful to social Catholic thinking. The Jesuit mandate of the last General Congregations, together with later documents, like the “Characteristics for Social Apostolate” in combination with the Jesuit Social Apostolate World Congress at Napoli (1997) and the recent Letter of Fr. General have constantly provided orientations to our work.

Various past events and movements in Japan and through East Asian countries strongly influenced the direction of our center. The most prominent ones were: the flow of hundreds of thousands of boat people in the late 70s and early 80s and the hard situations they met in Japan and elsewhere; the presence of foreign workers in Japan and the cold reception they still receive; the spread of citizen groups and the networks of NGOs; the political and business corruption and shortsighted Japanese power politics; the terrible shock of the Hanshin earthquake and the generous response of Japanese youth and tens of thousands of volunteers; the increasing numbers of homeless people and the unemployed; the possibilities offered by the use of the internet, etc.

But, talking about issues, one can mention: human rights violations and politics in Asia, globalization and multinational business, consumption patterns, re-structuring and networking trends.

Rethinking our Christian roles in Japan
(By normal standards, I have already entered the stage of ‘senior’ Jesuits and feel that, people like myself, should openly be frank in manifesting our opinions and try to open forums of free exchanges of views.)

My first remark is that changes are needed. They are healthy and dynamic when the aim is to be prompt in answering the needs of people, of offering different new alternatives, and not only to re-structure our organizations and institutions. Too often we hear that a change must come because of lack of personnel and/or funds. In Japan ‘re-structure’ has become a famous expression that usually means cutting jobs, closing places, and merging with others. The real purpose is more profitable business. Priority is given to bigger groups, also within religious institutions.

The motivation for change in our organizations and institutions must be to offer a better qualitative service to people. No matter the different field of work we are involved in, our principal interest must be the persons with whom we work and those whom we serve, and not the institution, no matter how important we consider it.

Again, re-thinking on our roles in Japan, we need a clear vision. We do not have to invent it. The vision is in front of us, if we look at the modern world with the eyes of the Gospel. This was, after all, the stand of Vatican II Council, especially in the Constitution on “The Modern World”. Jesuits and other religious groups elaborated that stand further. For us Jesuits, the promotion of Faith and Justice is a key expression that embraces our modern Jesuit identity.

As Fr. General P.H. Kolvenbach often reminds us: “From GC32 to GC34, our option for the poor has been a clear priority. No Jesuit can deny it”. Thinking 10 or 20 years ahead concretely, our mission in Japan, in the social field, must embrace the following important elements:

A Church-Vision
A Church-Vision, local as well as international or Catholic. Such vision should focus on lay people. Our Japanese Church, including the religious, is too clerical. While lay people fulfil their civil responsibilities as professionals in society, when it comes to participation in the work of the church they are seldom given important tasks and opportunities.

They are considered employees, not co-workers. Many are not aware of the rich Catholic teaching regarding social or political involvement in Japanese society, because religious leaders are unable to present publicly such a Christian message or maybe they are not confident about the whole matter.

In dealing with the local Japanese Church there is a need of a radical change in our mentality also. Our Churches are filled with foreigners. This is nothing new any more and this situation will certainly remain for the next 10 years and further on. These foreign workers, young and full of dynamism, are a blessing for our Churches, but they often live in fear in our midst. Most face many material needs and discrimination. The churches are, to many of them, a refuge and a spiritual and psychological oasis. They can meet there their countrymen and pray to God as they were accustomed to do back home. Nevertheless, many local Christian communities or churches still refuse to accept them, they are not friendly to them, as they consider them visitors or like second rank Christians. Such foreigners do not count in parish councils and are not given responsibilities as Christians. No matter their legal status, many have been with us already for 8 or 10 years.

A different issue is inter-congregational cooperation among the various religious. This becomes obvious in the field of education. New needs in society ask for new initiatives and alternative plans of cooperation that could enrich the works of Christian education and make positive contributions to the work of the Church and to Japanese society. An example would be the recognition by the schools of fieldwork outside the school, and the building of volunteer programs for teachers and students. Christian universities and colleges could make valuable contributions to Japanese society, offering in open forums outside their institutions humanistic and Christian values. This could be done by getting involved and taking stands on modern problems of economics and politics, of legal rights of the weakest sectors in our society, of environmental issues, and so forth. We had a small experience for the last 5 years in approaching “mission schools”, through organizing workshops for educators on the promotion of volunteer spirit, of becoming “persons for others”. For the time being this could not proceed further, for lack of official support from the schools.

A Christian Ecumencial Vision
A Christian Ecumenical Vision. At the social action level, we often meet people of other faiths and work together with them, sometimes we also hold prayer meetings with them. It becomes natural to work together for the promotion of the human person, for peace, against discrimination and poverty, etc. People that belong to other religions are receptive to such cooperation. This is the same experience other groups and organizations also have. Nevertheless, the image we, Christians, project towards Japanese society is that we are totally divided. A lot of efforts are still needed to make a reality that unity Jesus wanted from us Christians. After all, we believe and love the same Jesus Christ and draw power and inspiration from the same Word of God. Why so much division?

A Modern Secular Vision
A Modern Secular Vision. When we look inwardly within the walls of our institutions, no matter their size, we might feel satisfaction in the efforts and the work done.

But in reality, people do not know us, our impact in Japanese society is practically null, we are just a drop of water in the Japanese Sea. I think that one of the most basic attitudes we Christians need is an awareness of our smallness and powerlessness. Our real strength to continue with joyful optimism the spreading of the Gospel is Christ himself. The symbols Jesus himself chose of seed and leaven, salt and light help shape our attitudes in front of Japanese society. The energy and dynamism built in the Word of God produces marvelous changes.

I think we need to stop being “spectators” of society, and become deeply rooted in people to understand their lives, problems and suffering. Those who are in the weakest side of society look for people they can trust and communicate with. One of our roles is to search for the roots of the problems, and grasp as objectively as possible the Japanese situation. Christian values are often in collision with the mentality of the common Japanese person for success, competitiveness, consumption and material comfort. Are we really providing alternatives and know how to say no to values that contradict the Gospel?

Do we offer something of real value to official economic policies, to educational official plans, to moral business and economic corruption, so that the common Japanese could agree with? Inside the Church the moral values we hold could look very valuable, but how are those values transferred to Japanese society? Is there any dynamic leadership from the side of Japanese Christian communities? There is nothing wrong with trying to address leaders and influential people, but since we have made an ‘option for the poor’ this dimension must clearly appear.

Internationalization and Church
The internationalization of Japanese society is my last remark. This is extremely important in this new century. Here, again, our contributions are most gratifying and there is a wide field for cooperation.Nevertheless, since our efforts are on one hand limited and at the same time very valuable, the emphasis must be, more and more, on the contributions we could make towards third world countries.For many years to come, our priorities should stay with poverty elimination. Japan is a very influential country in Asia and in the world, and our lay people must have a deeper understanding of how much our Catholic faith can inspire them to make better contributions to less industrially developed Asian peoples.This requires big changes within the churches and educational institutions. I am not referring to some sporadic volunteer activities but to full systematic planning.

Many citizens groups and NGOs continue flourishing in Japan during the past 20 years that this Center has been in existence. Such groups, without having any religious connotation, often identify themselves with the weakest sectors in society. Many of them active in third world countries of Asia, are fighting against poverty and violations of human rights. There are quite a few individual Christians working with them, but the future is still full of possibilities for wider cooperation. NGOs in Japan might be practically the only sector that creates optimism and hope in our actual gloomy society.

By being in constant contact with such healthy citizens groups we might discover to become prophets, and thus accomplish better our duties as Christians inside modern Japanese society.

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