Ando Isamu, SJ(Jesuit Social Center in Tokyo)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 132 / June 1st, 2006
The Social Center of Tokyo came into existence 32 years after Fr. Janssens, the Jesuit General at the time, published his Instruction on the Social Apostolate (1949) appealing to set up “Centers of Information and Social Action” all over the world where Jesuits are working. In 2005 there were 324 Jesuit Social Centers spread over five continents.
Several Jesuits in Japan had been involved in promoting social-welfare activities long before the Tokyo Social Center came into existence and the Japanese Province had established a special Committee to reflect on social issues in Japan in order to implement the Society of Jesus’ commitment to a more just society.
Many factors and people contributed to the establishment of this Center. Some were planned before hand, like the Socio-Economic Institute with its Asian Relations Center at Sophia University, but some were providential like the donation of a house and property by the deceased Ms. Elizabeth Catherine Pedro. The Jesuit 32nd General Congregation (1974-75) and the impulse given to the social justice ministry in East Asia by the “Socio-Economic Life in Asia” (SELA), Jesuit organization very active at that time, had certainly a definite influence in building some permanent structures for Jesuit social apostolate in Japan.
The Tokyo Jesuit Center started in 1981 with some definite orientations. Japanese society was pursuing euphoric economic industrial development while many Asian countries were suffering from poverty and oppression. The end of the war in Vietnam originated hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Boat people and other refugees from Cambodia and Laos, a situation that provoked many people and organizations from all over the world to act on their behalf. In Japan individuals and citizens’ groups joined hands together to protect the refugees. There were also some Jesuits among them and through the leadership of Fr. Arrupe, Jesuit General at that time a new organization, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) with temporal headquarters in Bangkok (Thailand) was established. The new Tokyo center started operations in close coordination with JRS and worked, from its very beginning, for the acceptance of refugees and displaced persons in Japan and for the advocacy of their human rights. The difficulties involved and the refusal of the Japanese system to accept refugees created the need to work in collaboration with other organizations in network systems. Since then, networking has been one of the characteristics of the Tokyo Center.
Refugees opened more our eyes to the issues of poverty in many Asian countries where Japan had become an economic influential country. We thought we were in a position to make some contribution to alleviate situations of poverty in several Asian countries where we were able to establish direct connections with people.
Catholic social teaching inspired us and we searched for Jesuit and other catholic networks that could orientate our thinking. We worked along with a number of NGOs and groups that yearn for a better human society where human rights are respected, in particular with Catholic Justice and Peace, but we also decided to make symbolic efforts by committing ourselves to small-scale development projects that try to solve problems of poverty around Asian countries. Thus, we concentrated in Vietnam and Cambodia, following at the same time the initiatives of other citizens with whom we collaborate.
Japanese society, as well as other Asian countries, has changed much during all these years, and no matter our limitations we have tried to adapt to the new situations. When the Tokyo center was established the ideological conflict ? communism versus capitalism ? was effervescent while globalization issues are now much in the open; poverty and oppression were outstanding issues in many Asian countries and in spite of all the economic growth in East Asian countries now, the poverty gap is leaving millions of people in very un-human situations. Even in affluent Japan this is much felt nowadays, with thousands of homeless people and the “winners and losers” coexisting together. Since several years ago Japanese society is facing a new phenomenon, the affluence of foreign workers coming to work in Japan, first from several Asian countries, and at present even from far away Latin American countries. Although in limited ways this center is also committed to this issue.
New situations and challenges make us to look for new creative ways to continue the work of promoting greater awareness and commitment to more human dignity and social justice. Team work, networking and further commitments to the weak sectors in society with open minds to all sources of information are essential to break new ground in the future. On the other hand, we want to continue emphasizing the Jesuit character of this Tokyo social center and, thus, we have started a new system of an apostolic team of Jesuits and lay colleagues that take corporate responsibility in the running of the center. The past 25 years are a valuable asset for future developments.