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Sisters bring new hope to Fukushima

Holy Spirit and Sacred Heart sisters to open convent in disaster area

Sisters bring new hope to Fukushima

The blessing ceremony for the new Holy Trinity Convent correspondent, Tokyo

September 25, 2013

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The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster which resulted from the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, 2011, continues to affect the lives of many people living nearby. Now, two orders of religious sisters wish to form a more permanent presence among those they have served in the area and have formed a new convent to support their work there and each other.

The Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit and the Society of the Sacred Heart have chosen Haramachi district of Minamisoma City for their new convent.

The location, some 245km northeast of Tokyo, is less than 25km from the reactor—within the area where residents who did not flee were advised to stay indoors as much as possible in the days following the accident to lessen the health risks posed by radiation.

Holy Trinity Convent, as the new institution is to be called, will be home to three nuns: Holy Spirit Sisters Kazue Hisamatsu, 75, and Setsuko Hayakawa, 74, as well as Sacred Heart Sister Chiaki Hatanaka, 62. They plan to begin their new communal life in October.

All three are currently working at a volunteer’s center called Caritas Haramachi Base, which the Catholic Church operates in Minamisoma City. The convent is located a mere five minutes from the base by car.

On September 8, Father Masayoshi Kariura, a priest from Nagoya diocese, presided over a ceremony to bless the new dwelling.

Sr Tamiyo Murakami, Holy Spirit Sisters Provincial, says Fr Masayoshi told her last year that there was no convent in Minamisoma and that more volunteers were needed at the at Haramachi Base. That was the impetus for the Holy Spirit Sisters to send Srs Hisamatsu and Kayakawa. They arrived in April.

While these two were working in Minamisoma, they learned that Sr Hatanaka was also stationed there, and that she was living alone.

“For a woman religious, it is very hard to live alone. We feel a necessity to form a community with others, even if they aren’t from the same order,” Sr Murakami said. “So I got in touch with the Society of the Sacred Heart.”

Sr Hatanaka has already spent about a year in Minamisoma, where she serves as a leader at Haramachi Base, but without the company of other sisters. This solitary life has caused her increasing anxiety.

“I know the importance of living a communal life in a convent and praying together with the community,” says Sr Hatanaka, “and when living alone I find myself swept along with the work, as though that were everything.

“I was beginning to sense the spiritual danger of this kind of solitary life. But just at that moment, the talk of forming this joint convent with the Servants of the Holy Spirit came up.”

Sr Hatanaka believes that while each religious order has its own “particular specialization,” at its core it has the same goal as all others. Each order, furthermore, is facing the same pattern of decline in membership numbers. Reaching outside the boundaries of one’s own community in cooperation is therefore important, she says.

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