Sixteen years have passed since the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people on Jan. 17, 1995. This year, Takatori Catholic Church in Kobe, a city that was devastated in the disaster, teamed up with Buddhist priests to host a memorial service. On the morning of the event, a large group gathered in the church courtyard amid sub-freezing temperatures to offer prayers. After hymns were sung, a Buddhist priest chanted a sutra at 5:46 a.m., the time that the earthquake had struck. Incense was offered. “As long as we live, there will be hardship and sadness. These things mark us like the rings of a tree and enable us to grow in strength and kindness to others. That is what I hope to pass on to the next generation of children,” said Venerable Shusho Miyadera, board chairman of the All-Japan Young Buddhist Association, while addressing the assembly at the end of the proceedings. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Takatori had been a base of operations for different kinds of volunteer groups. On the 16th, the day before the official ceremony, a memorial service was held at the Takatori Church’s sanctuary by the All-Japan Young Buddhist Association. Buddhist priests from every sect and corner of Japan, Vietnamese Buddhists, Catholics of various nationalities, and locals all gathered together. The sanctuary was filled to overflowing. Among the participants were a total of about 40 Buddhist and 10 Catholic priests. That vigil ceremony began with a hymn sung by Peruvian attendees. Then, while the Buddhist priests were chanting sutras, the members of the congregation recalled the deceased and offered incense before the altar, which was arranged with items including crosses and Buddhist mortuary tablets. Finally, Father Hiroshi Kanda of Osaka Archdiocese and Venerable Shungen Kameyama of the Society of Young Buddhists of Kobe read from a document entitled “Prayers of Memorial and New Life: The Kobe Message from Religious Persons,” which had originally been published on the third anniversary of the earthquake. One 57 year-old Christian man from Vietnam had come to Japan in 1980 and was living here with his family. At the time of the disaster, it so happened that his wife and a child had gone back to visit Vietnam. “They were afraid that I had died. Two or three days later, I was finally able to contact them from a public payphone. I lived through the Vietnam War, but unlike a war, you can’t escape an earthquake. These 16 years have passed so quickly!” “It was so terrible,” recalled Juán Castillo, a 55 year-old Peruvian, whose apartment building had collapsed during the earthquake. His three young children, still in elementary school, suffered broken bones and other injuries, while some of his friends perished. One of his children, now grown, has become a boxing champion in Japan. The “Kobe Message” includes this plea: “Do not let the earthquake defeat you, but take courage and join us in building a new world. JA12932.1637
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