It has been thirty-eight years since Pope St. John Paul II visited Japan in 1981. The
present pope, Pope Francis, just recently spent four days in Japan last month (Nov. 23 to 26, 2019). When Pope Francis addressed a conference of bishops, he said, “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.” In El Jesuita, young Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) is quoted as saying,
“Over time, I felt the desire to go as a missionary to Japan, where the Jesuits have always
carried out a very important work” (Vatican News, Nov. 23, 2019). As a young Jesuit in
Argentina, he had hoped to go to Japan, but his hopes were dashed when he contracted
pneumonia. As you can see, this trip was a fulfilment of a long-awaited dream for Pope
Francis. Japan is significant in that it was the Jesuits who first introduced Christianity to
Japan, when Francis Xavier undertook a mission to Japan in 1549 to seek an audience with
the Japanese Emperor in Kyoto. Pope Francis happens to be the first Jesuit to become a
pope. On this trip, Pope Francis visited Sophia University (上智大学), a prominent
educational institution established by the Jesuits, where he was met by 700 people. He also held mass at Tokyo Dome where 50,000 Catholics attended. There were lots on his agenda. He met with the newly crowned Emperor Naruhito as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
Although Pope Francis may have had much to accomplish in Japan, what seemed central
to him was to offer prayers in remembrance of the 140,000 and 74,000 people who passed away in Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. He traveled to both cities and offered his prayers. Nagasaki also happens have the largest number Catholics. As a matter of fact, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, it obliterated Urakami Cathedral, which was then the largest cathedral in East Asia. The bomb killed 8000 Catholics in the area. In Pope Francis’ sermon at Nagasaki’s Peace Park, he denounced the use of any atomic weapons as, “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home.” Further, he mentioned, “In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven.” Pope Francis exhorted an end to the massive destruction that nuclear weapons pose, as well as the senseless, never-ending appetite to stockpile nuclear arms.
It is ironic that it should be Japan of all nations to be the first to rid themselves of
anything nuclear, but that is not the case. Pope Francis also did not forget that Japan was
still dependent on nuclear energy. He met with the victims of what he called the Triple
Disaster, that of the earthquake that occurred in Miyagi Prefecture on Mar. 11, 2011, which caused a massive tsunami, which eventually caused irreparable damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in a severe release of radioactivity, causing long-term health and environmental hazard. The pope left the following message: “As we think about the future of our common home, we need to realize that we cannot make purely selfish decisions, and that we have a great responsibility to future generations. Consequently, we must choose a humble and sober way of life that recognizes the urgent realities we are called to face.”
I completely agree with his message. However, what intrigued me was how he delivered
his message. Could it because Christians represent less than 1% of the Japanese population that the pope employed a very Buddhist way of relaying his message? First, he speaks of, “the future of our common home.” He reminds us that we are all inhabitants of the same Earth. In essence, we are all connected. Secondly, that he chose the word “selfish” is interesting. In the quote above, he says, “we cannot make purely selfish decisions.” The decision to continue the use of nuclear power according to the pope is selfish. It is not a decision that places the health and welfare of the people and our environment above considerations of convenience or cost. In other words, we have acquiesced to the desires or objectives of a few without contemplating the potentially devastating hazards that they may hold for the rest of the world. Finally, Pope Francis advocates that we approach the problem by choosing “a humble and sober way of life.” In other words, we must learn to live and be satisfied with something less ambitious, if that something is what can only be had from what power is generated from alternate forms of energy. Is it not true what the pope said?
I admit that I am merely reiterating what Pope Francis has said. Obviously, the pope’s
audience is in the billions, and he does not need me to repeat anything. It is utterly
contemptuous for an insignificant bloke as I to repeat what he has said, but his message is too important to neglect. For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima or
Nagasaki as I recently did on our Japan tour, it is a sobering reality to see the displays at
their museums. It should be a requisite for all our students to see. As we live our busy
lives, it is very easy to forget how lethal nuclear power can be. Unfortunately, we are only
reminded of its devastation when it is too late, such as when there is a meltdown as in
Fukushima. The wrath of nuclear power has no borders. Decisions made across the ocean about nuclear arms and reactors for that matter are no longer someone else’s problem, but one that affects each of us intimately. (Eisei Ikenaga)