Bishop Umemura of Yokohama celebrates Mass to mark the beginning of the diocese's 'year of commemoration'
For Yokohama diocese, 2012 is a year that marks two special events in its own and in Japan’s history. The first is the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the first church built in Japan after the country opened up to the West. The second is the diocese’s 75th birthday. As such, a one-year period that started on November 23, 2011,and lasts until November 24, 2012, has been set aside as a “year of commemoration” for the diocese. Next year also coincides with the 150th anniversary of the canonization of St Paul Miki and Companions. On November 23, Bishop Masahiro Umemura of Yokohama conducted a Mass at Yamate Cathedral in Yokohama, also known as the Church of the Sacred Heart, to usher in its 150th anniversary year. The liturgy itself was marked with important symbols of the history of the Church in Japan. Yokohama diocese is home to a cross, chalice, and other sacred articles which belonged to Theodore-Augustin Forcade of the Paris Mission Society, who was appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of Japan in 1846 and later became Archbishop of Aix, Arles, and Embrun in France. The articles were used during the course of the Mass, which was attended by about 400 people. Father Forcade arrived in the Ryukyu Kingdom on the island now known as Okinawa in 1844. Named Vicar Apostolic of Japan and Titular Bishop of Samos in 1846, he set out for Japan, but was ultimately never able to set foot on its shores due to the nation’s self-isolation. After returning to France, he was made Bishop of Nevers, where St Bernadette of Lourdes, with whom he would gain a personal connection, entered a convent in 1866. Although he went on to the archbishop’s seat in Aix-en-Provence, Forcade continued to offer the first Mass of every month for the Church in Japan, and especially for future Japanese priests, according to Bishop Umemura. The Church of the Sacred Heart, built in 1862, moved from its original location and became the current Yokohama Cathedral. Its original location, now a part of Yokohama’s Chinatown, is marked by a stone monument and statue of Christ. The church was built by Prudence Seraphin-Barthelemy Girard, after Japan concluded a treaty with America and other nations and opened up to the world in 1854. Fr. Girard himself went to Japan in 1859 as an interpreter for French diplomats. In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Umemura alluded to 1 Corinthians 1:21 and God’s use of what Paul refers to as “the foolishness of preaching.” In an age where people try to produce a lot with “a small amount of effort,” we must take up the passion of our predecessors and continue to evangelize, without making it our “core principle to value economic effectiveness as the most important consideration,” he said.