How jesuits break through blockades

How jesuits break through blockades

Pope Francis meets with Japan's bishops © Gregorio Borgia

This Saturday, Francis began his three-day visit to Japan in Tokyo. In addition to appeals against nuclear weapons and for disarmament, the agenda includes a church with a Japanese face.

He had heard that the Japanese are hard-working people, so he, too, wanted to start working right away, Francis joked, after arriving at the nunciature directly from the airport for a meeting with the country's bishops. With the visit to Japan, he confessed, he was fulfilling a boyhood dream. As a young Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio wanted to go to the Land of the Rising Sun. Now, as pope, he landed in Tokyo from Bangkok, where Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso officially welcomed him. Aso is a Catholic, one of about 90.000 in the city of 9.5 million people.

Criticism against current blockades

In 1549, when the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier wanted to get into Japan, which was closed off at the time, he had to board a pirate ship – the only ones to break Japan's self-isolation at the time to get coveted trade goods into the country. Later, Christian missionaries attached themselves to Portuguese merchants to spread Christianity. Until Japan's ruler in the early 17. They want to undermine the liberal rules of the game and the rule of law that banned religion from the West in the early twentieth century, threw their missionaries out of the country, and had thousands of Christians killed.

Francis had already sharply criticized current blockades and tendencies toward self-isolation during his visit to Bangkok: "The epochs are over in which the thinking of a temporal-spatial isolation prevailed" and could assert itself as a means of conflict resolution, the pope said. But in East Asia, too, the signs are currently pointing more toward demarcation. Just on Saturday, an agreement between Japan and South Korea on intelligence cooperation expired, which South Korea does not want to renew for the time being.

Message against nuclear weapons

Tokyo's tendency to soften Japan's globally unique pacifist catch-all in order to arm itself against possible aggression by China and North Korea is meeting with opposition in the country. Particularly strong criticism of this core concern of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came from the Catholic Church. The president of the bishops' conference, Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, specifically addressed the tensions at the meeting with the pope. Francis will certainly express himself along the same lines.

On Sunday, Nagasaki and Hiroshima will discuss the abolition of nuclear weapons, further disarmament and peace measures. Surely, then, Francis' speech in Nagasaki will be compared to that of his predecessor, John Paul II. in Hiroshima in 1981. In the midst of the American-Soviet arms race, he called for "disarmament and the abolition of all nuclear weapons". His successor from Argentina has condemned not only the use and threat of nuclear weapons, but their possession alone as immoral.

Probably to underscore his fundamental opposition to even the death penalty, the pope plans to meet with a former death row inmate on the sidelines of Mass in Tokyo. Former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada was convicted of robbery-murder in 1968 and spent 46 years on death row until he was released as innocent in 2014 after DNA testing. Japan's criminal law still provides for the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, executions are carried out secretly, independent observers, even relatives, are not allowed to attend. In this point, too, Francis will certainly support Japan's episcopate.

Peculiarities of Japanese culture

Whether he does the same with another concern is at best addressed behind closed doors these days. The bishops are frustrated by Rome's refusal to address the specifics of Japanese culture in the Japanese version of the "Introduction to the Roman Missal". Among other things, it provides for gestures such as the priest's altar kiss and the threefold confession of guilt by the faithful at the beginning of Mass. Both will be understood differently in Japan than the Church intended.

In Japan, for example, a public kiss is already considered a quasi-sexual act. And he who asks for apology three times, children already learn, is a liar. In Bangkok, Francis called for a "church with a Thai face". The pope, who also wants to strengthen local churches, can hardly say otherwise to the one in Japan. And when he returns to Rome on Tuesday evening, he could instruct the Curia, which he also wants to make a service provider for the local churches, accordingly.

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Christina Cherry
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