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Former Tokyo archbishop's open letter on renewal of the Roman Curia

Archbishop Okada's letter is a slightly revised message he had earlier sent to Pope Francis

Archbishop Emeritus Peter Takeo Okada

Archbishop Emeritus Peter Takeo Okada

Updated: September 24, 2019 06:01 AM GMT
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Former Tokyo archbishop's open letter on renewal of the Roman Curia

A relief of Father Petitjean, a priest of the French Societe des Missions, with a group of Japanese 'kakure Kirishitan' or 'hidden Christians' is displayed at a church in Nagasaki city on Japan's southern island of Kyushu. (Photo by Philippe Agret/AFP)

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Beginning with the arrival of St. Francis Xavier to Japan, our country has a history of 470 years of evangelization. More than 200 years of this was a time of persecution and prohibition of Christianity, and we are still very much a minority. We are only one million including many foreigners, in comparison with the total population of 130 million people. We do need help, guidance and spiritual support from other Churches in the world, especially from the Holy See.

Our supreme pastor of the world, Pope Francis, is very eager to renovate the situation of the Curia of the Holy See. I express heartfelt support to His Holiness, and on the occasion of his visit to Japan, I would like to express again my personal suggestions for the renewal of the Roman Curia of the Holy See.

I personally wish to make suggestions on the following three points:

  • Inculturation
  • Decentralization
  • Spiritualization


One of the most important issues for the Catholic Church in Japan is the task of inculturation of the teachings of the Gospel and the liturgy.

Regarding the liturgy, we received special permission after the Second Vatican Council for adaptations concerning the order of the Mass and the way of celebrating Mass.

For example, according to our culture and custom, we wish to receive Holy Communion in the hand respectfully, and not to receive directly in the mouth. This practice may still be maintained, but I am afraid that in other cases permissions may be canceled.

It seems to us that the new version of the General Instruction of the Roman Mass will result in the cancellation of some cases of adaptation which were previously permitted to the Bishops’ Conference of Japan. We see a serious problem in changing the current manner of celebrating the Mass which has been welcomed by the people and taken root deeply in the Church. The Bishops’ Conference of Japan sent our new alternative plan to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments some years ago. Until now we have had no response from the congregation.

We have also requested approval of the Japanese texts translated from Latin for the prayers of the Mass. We humbly ask for acknowledgement of our qualification to decide official Japanese translations from the original Latin texts.

In sum, I propose that the Roman Curia be more open to cultural adaptations initiated by the local Churches.


I am afraid that there may be too much centralization of power in the Holy See. I suggest that the Holy See try greater decentralization of power through delegation to the bishops’ conferences. It is very desirable for the universal Church to share responsibility among local Churches.

Half of the population of the world consists of Asians. The Holy See should make use of the human resources of Asian countries.


Japanese society is very much secularized, although we Japanese still have a good moral sense and strong consciences. But what we lack are genuine spiritual Christian values, values which we would expect to find at the center of our universal Church in Rome.

We wish that the Roman Curia would be a sign for us through poor, humble, faithful and holy servants of our Lord Jesus Christ working there.

In the past we have had a bad impression of the world of the Vatican as a place of power struggles or games. Now we hope that under the initiative of the present Holy Father the Holy See will be renewed to become as holy as its name indicates.

Peter Takeo Okada was archbishop of Tokyo from 2000 until 2017 and is now the administrator of a parish in that city. His open letter was dated Sept. 23. The views and opinions expressed in the above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com. 

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