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Volunteers work on in quake dioceses

Catholic Church in Japan's efforts continue, damaged churches checked

Volunteers work on in quake dioceses
Earthquake-hit Yumoto Catholic Church, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture (photo: Diocese of Saitama)

March 30, 2011

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Volunteers have continued to expand activities to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan. The Catholic Church in Japan established the Sendai Diocese Support Center in response to the March 11 quake and its disastrous aftermath. Ever since its founding on March 16 and the commencement of volunteer recruitment two days later, the Support Center has been helping in places like the cities of Shiogama and Ishinomaki. Two volunteers from Saitama diocese, Misa Nakamura of Tokorozawa Church, 24, and Hiroshi Igarashi of Tochigi Church, 21, came to Sendai on March 19. They mostly worked in Shiogama, around 15km northeast of Sendai, to clear mud from tsunami-stricken houses and to clean up the household articles inside. They returned home on March 26. Ms. Nakamura said, “Shiogama Church became the initial base for support operations (in this area). (Volunteers) were sleeping in the sanctuary and the parishioners’ hall.” On weekdays, about 30-40 people were at work, and that number swelled to 50-60 at the weekend. Young men and women were also dispatched from Tokyo Shinsei Kaikan, a Catholic center for youth activities, faith formation and Bible study, to help in Ishinomaki, some 40km northeast of Sendai, from March 24-27. Nozomi Sugino, 24, described the city’s status as “really awful.” “The church itself is at the top of a hill, so it was OK, but if you walk just 5 minutes down it’s a ghost town - debris everywhere,” said Mr. Sugino. “Some people from Ishinomaki Church were among the deceased.” Here too, volunteers struggle to clean mud and household items from houses that lay in the tsunami’s path, but even after they get garbage outside, there is no one to collect it. The death toll of disaster victims continues to rise, and food is scarce. Police estimates are reported to show more than about 18,400 died – 10,500 in Miyagi prefecture alone. A further 452,000 people are living in shelters. Fr. Akihiro Watanabe of Sendai Diocese visited Kesennuma on March 26 to assess the situation and reported that, as yet, radio was still the only means of getting information into the area. Another Sendai priest, Fr. Tadanori Kawasaki, could not celebrate Sunday Mass as usual in northern Miyagi Prefecture because he can get no fuel for his car. On March 18, Saitama Diocese established a support center of its own, and three churches in the diocese - Kashima, Mito, and Hitachi Churches - set up support stations on March 22. Ten seminarians and deacons are devoting themselves to relief activities there. The biggest problem facing Kashima Church and its neighborhood was reportedly the interruption of water services. But damage to the ceiling of the sanctuary at Mito Church made it unsafe to enter. Sisters of the Eucharistic Missionaries of the Most Holy Trinity, whose convent is located at Mito Church, have had to take up lodging in the adjacent Blessed Mother Kindergarten due to the crumbling walls and roof at their home. A number of Indonesian Catholics who lived in the nearby town of Oarai have also fallen victim to the disaster. According to town officials, many of these people have already returned to their home countries, but Saitama Diocese has set up an emergency shelter for non-Japanese refugees and, with the help of local governments, is distributing pamphlets to get the word out. Hitachi City’s Hitachi Church was also hit hard. There are about 300 refugees in the evacuation shelters run by local governments. JA13790

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