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Sendai diocese counts cost of disaster

Parishioners take on the job of caring for survivors of Japan quake

Daily life resumes in the area worst hit by the earthquake (photo: Korean Protestant Church Relief) Daily life resumes in the area worst hit by the earthquake (photo: Korean Protestant Church Relief)
  • Japan
  • March 24, 2011
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The diocese of Sendai, in the area worst affected by the earthquake that hit Japan, has confirmed the death of one Catholic layperson in the disaster. Several pre school-age children are dead or missing.

In its latest report on the consequences of the quake and tsunami, issued March 22, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) said the layperson who died was a resident of Miyagi Prefecture.

Also in Miyagi, one child who attended a Catholic pre-school had died and another was missing. Two other toddlers from Fukushima Prefecture were dead and one in Iwate Prefecture was missing.

Residents of Minamisoma City in Fukushima prefecture have been instructed to flee the area or, at least, to stay indoors due to their proximity to the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Dominican Fr. Raymond Latour is in charge of Haramachi Church there, but his main parish is Kita Sendai Church, where he is pastor. He was in Sendai City when the disaster struck.

According to Fr. Latour, many Catholics from Minamisoma decided to flee the city to escape danger. Many of those that stayed in their homes, he said, were having to make do “with nothing more than instant ramen (noodles).”

“The church has ceased to be ‘a place where people can gather.’ Whether it can be reopened in a week, or a month – we just don’t know,” said Fr. Latour.

There are 53 churches and 8 mission stations in Sendai Diocese. Serious damage to Furukawa church in Miyagi Prefecture and Sukagawa and Yumoto churches in Fukushima Prefecture has rendered them unusable. Otherwise, damage to diocesan buildings was described as “minimal.”

Despite the chaos, parishioners of Kita Sendai have been busy since March 12, the day after the deadly quake and tsunami, delivering food aid to victims.

According to Hiroko Haga, one of the parishioners, persistent distribution difficulties in the city have meant that “people must stand in line for three hours to buy a slice of bread,” so the church reaches out not only to the homeless but also to the elderly and to nursing mothers for whom the endless lines would be too arduous.

The ongoing efforts of the parishioners form a natural extension of charitable activities to help the homeless in which the church was already active, but due to violent aftershocks and the continued disruption of gas supplies, they are now forced to rely on propane tanks for meal preparation.

Foodstuffs are supplied by a variety of organizations, including Caritas Japan, food banks, and ecumenical Christian bodies.

The diocese has been hit by countless aftershocks since the main devastating earthquake. It is home to 16 religious orders and mission societies, in 34 locations.

At the Sendai Convent of the Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph of Osaka, damage including cracks in a building and the collapse of part of the outer wall were reported.

Sr. Junko Takeuchi, said the convent has been “rocked like a cradle” by the intermittent aftershocks, but the structure had undergone some earthquake-proofing two years ago, and by covering up damaged places with sheets and other makeshift countermeasures, the four resident sisters are able to carry on with their daily lives.

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