The Kobe deanery, a part of Osaka diocese, was hit hard in the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck on January 17, 1995, and it remains mindful of the stress that such disasters can bring. So this month, 11 churches in the Kobe area invited people from Fukushima for a summer visit. The attendees were mainly mothers and children, for whom opportunities to play outside have been greatly reduced since to the nuclear accident in Fukushima last year. From August 2-5, the deanery offered a summer camp for youths and adults. Some 23 youths from two churches in Fukushima City played along the seashore and enjoyed games with 75 elementary and middle school children from the Kobe area. Meanwhile, 10 mothers of the children and two nuns were also offered a chance to leave the stresses of their lives behind and visit the city of Kobe. The idea for this project struck the dean of the Kobe Vicariate when he visited Fukushima last autumn and heard the women talking about taking their children somewhere they could play outside without worrying about radiation. The program was made possible by a variety of organizations, including Caritas Japan, religious orders and Catholic schools. Many Catholics in Kobe who lived through the Great Hanshin Earthquake wanted to do something to help the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake last spring. “My own house partially collapsed in the earthquake 17 years ago. Even though my lifelines were cut, I still had to raise a child who had been born only 10 days before. That’s why I wished I could go up and spend a year or so helping those in the Tohoku disaster area personally; but I couldn’t take the time off work, so it never happened,” said Kazuyoshi Kakoi, a parishioner at Kitasuma Church. Naoto Hashimoto of the Kobe Chuo Church was 16 at the time of the Kobe quake. “At the time, I needed help from all the other people. So I constantly felt the desire to go and do something for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.” One of the highlights of the children’s track of the program was swimming in the ocean, something that has been impossible for children in Fukushima for over a year. Auxiliary Bishop Goro Matsuura of Osaka joined the children in their games. “I was truly happy watching the children playing so energetically in the outdoors and in the sea,” said Junko Sato, one of the mothers from Fukushima. “I was finally able to step back and think objectively about Fukushima and about myself—how the invisible radiation had made me unnecessarily nervous, and how I had been living with a fear I couldn’t fathom.”
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