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Japan archbishop says Francis will 'lead by example'

High hopes for reform and refocus on the poor

  • Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
  • Vatican City
  • March 22, 2013
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Pope Francis will bring change to the Vatican by the example he sets more than the orders he gives, even if he meet resistance and makes some people there unhappy, Japan's top cleric told ucanews.com.

Arcbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga of Osaka, a Jesuit like Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was in Rome to attend the new pope's installation Mass on Tuesday.

He said he was struck by the pontiff's commitment to bring the poor, the marginalized, the weak and the protection of the environment to the forefront of the Church's mission.

“He is a pope of the people, among the people. He wants to give preference to those who are at the margins.”

Ikenaga, who is also president of Japan's Catholic Bishops' Conference, said he hopes that Francis' example – more than his government acts – will effect change inside the Vatican to inspire others to give up centuries-old privileges and luxuries.

“This pope lives a very poor life. He doesn't spend money on things like elaborate liturgical dresses or his ring. Everything is sober.”

The Jesuit archbishop is convinced that “many in the Vatican will look at his lifestyle and say: 'We must act like this too.'”

“So, this is already a change working from the inside, not from above.”

Ikenaga admitted that he is “worried” that some in the Vatican will be irked by this change in style, but “his example and his coherence will win them over,” he said.

“And after all he is the pope, so they will have to follow his lead,” he added.

“Perhaps he won't order people to give up their privileges directly but will try to work change through his example. We must look how he will address the many problems of the Vatican.”

But Ikenaga was confident that, despite having seen “many popes” – he was ordained in 1968, under Paul VI – Francis would be a pope “of a new kind.”

Bergoglio's missionary drive to bring the Church to those at the margins will “resonate in Asia,” even though, Ikenaga said, “poverty and weakness are somewhat different in Asia than in Latin America. We will see how his message will be actualized in the Continent.”

The archbishop stressed that the Church in Japan will now have to work to absorb and transmit the pope's message of tenderness and attention to the poor and to the environment to the Japanese society at large.

“Japan unfortunately is not much ready for this kind of message – just think of what we did during the last war in Korea and China. This lack of respect for the human person still continues today,” he added.

He cited the treatment of immigrant wives of Japanese citizens from countries such as the Philippines, China or Korea as examples.

“They come to marry Japanese people, mostly farmers. But they have no chance of learning Japenese, they are expected only to work, work, work. The government, too, only issues them temporary visas.”

Ikenaga concluded: “Of course, if Francis were to come to Japan, the impact of his example would be much, much stronger.”

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