ASIA/JAPAN - “Where will Japan’s Church be in a quarter of a century?”: future and challenges facing the Catholic community in the land of the Rising Sun: lay people called to play a leading role

Thursday, 2 March 2006

Tokyo (Fides Service) - “Where will Japan’s Church be in a quarter of a century? What are the challenges she faces, the priorities for evangelisation?”. With statistics and forecasts concerning population trends in mind, the weekly news bulletin of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference Japan Catholic News also visible at looked at projections and opinions regard the Church in Japan in 25 years time.
According to a report issued by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s population will peak at 127 million in the year 2006 and fall to 117 million by the year 2030. That means a decline of 8% due to a declining birth rate. The percentage of the over 65s will increase to constitute 30% of the population. The family is also affected by change, increase in divorces, one parent families. Church and society change with the numbers of immigrants in Japan also on the rise
Looking at Church statistics the number of Japanese Catholics has remained at a steady a 450,000 over the past 10 years and adult baptisms averaged over 5,000 a years in the 10 year period. But last year the number fell to 3,000. In other words a decline in numbers all round is accelerating.
Against this background the bulletin asked the opinion of bishops, clergy, theologians and lay people. Bishop Kikuchi Isao of Niigata replied “I hope for a time when a positive sharing among bishops, clergy and laity will help the community face the challenges presented by modern society. This will require a change in the way priests regard themselves as well as the image that people have of priests. The Church community needs a change of heart founded in faith”, and more importance should be given to the role of lay people in the work of evangelisation.
Fr. Takabatake Masayuki of Hiroshima, agrees: “I would like to see diocese and parishes facilitate team ministry of laity, priests and religious working to build an open Church worthy of the people’s trust: this would be a good investment for the future”.
Sr. Anna Alvrado Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception said: “My wish is for an active Church equipped to confront the many varied problems in society. We need to provide space for opportunity, there must be no nationality hierarchies or distinctions. If people are to walk together they will have feel they are part of a community”. Another woman religious Sr. Hara Keiko wishes for “lay people to be authentic missionaries with theological formation in institutes or seminaries. In a word a well trained laity ready for evangelisation”.
The Church is always in need of conversion and renewal “going out to meet people, neighbours, people of others faiths, the little people in society”, says layman Yakushinji Ayano from Fukukoa diocese. Forty-one year old Mitou Shouji from Hiroshima said “the Church must give ever more space and attention to young people”.
Theologian and historian Jesuit Fr. Kawamura Shinzo stresses the need to “aim for quality rather than quantity of the faithful”, noting that “what is important is for Christians to be properly informed about their religion, so they may bear witness in every walk of life ”. He voices appreciation for “cross diocesan organisations called ‘confraria’ set up in the 14th century by the laity when bishops and priests fell victim to the Black Death which overran Europe reducing the populations by a quarter or a half. He also said that gatherings such as World Youth Day are proof that young people can achieve a solidarity than transcends diocesan and national boundaries”, which builds up the faith all over the world.
The article ends on a note of sure hope: “ are the words heard in every age, but gradually the needed wisdom emerges, the Holy Spirit will surely guide us”(Agenzia Fides 02/03/2006 Righe: 46 Parole: 475)