Cardinal Sarah blesses local Catholics during a visit to Ishinomaki Church in Miyagi Prefecture
The earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed some 14,000 last March in Japan has caused another tsumani, this time of solidarity and outreach, according to Pontifical Council Cor Unum president Cardinal Robert Sarah.
"Caritas Internationalis has done a great job coordinating all these resources," he told Zenit in an interview after returning from a visit to the tsunami affected areas of Japan. "This effort has enabled Caritas Japan in recent weeks to provide food, blankets and basic necessities to more than 10,000 people affected."
Q: What did you encounter in Japan?
Cardinal Sarah: Unprecedented material devastation alongside a great spirit of recovery, solidarity, and the search for a response to this catastrophe, which Christians know to be found in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q: What was the reason for your visit?
Cardinal Sarah: To bring to those most affected by the disaster -- whether Christian or not -- the nearness of the prayer and encouragement of the Pope, and to make a personal assessment as to what else can be done to alleviate emergency situations.
Q: What are the projects of solidarity that have been developed over the recent weeks?
Cardinal Sarah: The earthquake and resulting tsunami have caused death, pain and destruction but have also resulted in another tsunami of solidarity among the faithful, thanks to the diocesan Caritas worldwide. Caritas Internationalis has done a great job coordinating all these resources. This effort has enabled Caritas Japan in recent weeks to provide food, blankets and basic necessities to more than 10,000 people affected.
Q: What impressed you most during this visit?
Cardinal Sarah: It's hard to say. The whole trip has been a shocking experience. In Sendai, for example, from the car window we saw a gigantic plain (which used to be a crop field), clustered with many different objects displaced by the water from several kilometers away: smashed motorcycles, broken furniture, pieces of columns of a building, a refrigerator, a boat in the middle of a rice paddy, ruined houses, etc.
Q: Will the process of recovery take time?
Cardinal Sarah: Yes, and it's not going to be simple. In the region near the Fukujima nuclear power plant, some 800 fishermen have lost their jobs because the water took away their boats and, although they have received state aid to buy new boats, radiation will prevent them from fishing for an entire year. This is not an easy situation for a region that lives off fishing. The same applies to farmers in this area: they cannot cultivate the land during the next 12 months. Paul, a Catholic fisherman in Saitama, took us to see the site where his house was and where he used to moor his boat: now there is nothing.
Q: How have the people been reacting?
Cardinal Sarah: With impressive courage and dignity, despite the pain and suffering. We visited a church badly damaged in the Diocese of Saitama, the roof and sacred images destroyed by the earthquake. We had a very moving encounter with the faithful, who now attend Mass outdoors with extraordinary faith. In Sendai, after the celebration of the Eucharist, we had another touching meeting with people who had lost all their personal belongings, and we gave them all a rosary from the Pope.
Q: Does the presence and work of Caritas make sense in a society where Christians are less than one percent?
Cardinal Sarah: Undoubtedly. In every woman who has lost her loved ones to that tidal wave, in every man who has seen his home destroyed, in every sick and suffering person, we continue to see Christ. Christ himself encourages us to see Him in every hungry person, in every person who suffers. Not only in some people, but in everyone, because all are children of God, even those who are not aware of it.
Cardinal Sarah: Caritas Leads 'Tsunami of Solidarity' in Japan