Updated: March 22, 2015 06:46 PM GMT
Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami presents the final recommendations of the Nagasaki archdiocesan synod to three people representing the priests, Religious, and lay members of the archdiocese. (Photo supplied)
“The withering and enervation of the Church in Nagasaki is something that the Catholic community … recognizes with grief, remorse, and a deep sense of crisis,” states a sobering document released by Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami on March 17.
The document, which contains the conclusions of the first-ever Nagasaki archdiocesan synod, examines a variety of problems facing the archdiocese and proposes steps that can be taken toward solutions.
Known in part for the extraordinary faith of the “hidden Christians,” who secretly maintained their faith throughout centuries of persecution despite the lack of even a single priest or written copy of the Bible to guide them, Nagasaki now faces a precipitous decline in Church membership.
Over the past 30 years, the Catholic population here has dropped from 75,000 to only 62,000, and of the 267 marriages performed by the archdiocese in 2013, only 44 were for Catholics.
“In a majority of households, only one member of the family is Catholic,” says Fr Mamoru Yamawaki, president of the synod’s core committee. “The discussion has shifted from how to keep the faith as a family to how people can live their faith as individuals.”
The results can be poignant and tragic: “Children attending a parent’s funeral often cannot join in the prayers and do not even know how to participate in Mass; they are bewildered and upset,” says the new synod document.
A key part of what is needed, the synod maintains, is “care for those who have left the Church, or who have been pushed away from it.” And the latter case, they say, is all too common: “The words and actions of the bishops, priests, and lay leaders” contributes directly to people feeling unwelcome in the Catholic community here.
“The number of divorces has risen. Poverty has increased. There are many reasons the faithful have drifted from the Church," says Fr Yamawaki. “And yet some in the Church have looked only with eyes of judgment. Those eyes are no better than the eyes of the elder brother of the Prodigal Son.”
Indeed, the title accompanying a draft publication of the synod’s declaration also alludes to the parable of the Prodigal Son. It reads, “Let us return to our Father’s house.”
The synod offers three key recommendations to counteract this trend: the spiritual nurture of priests, Religious, and lay people alike, and that all embrace a true inner conversion; a renewed emphasis on faith education and prayer throughout the archdiocese, the formation of catechists, and priestly and religious vocations; and the collective determination as a community to tend to those “neighbors” in society who are suffering.
Fr Yamawaki says that one nun privy to the synod’s recommendations confronted him about them, asking, “Are you committed to this?”
“I sensed from her question that, if we are committed, she is determined to join us in our resolve. Lay men and women, too, feel that something must be done for those who have become separated from the Church. It is now up to Church leaders to show in concrete ways how committed we are to this task.”
The synod was convened last year to discuss new directions for the archdiocese in light of its current difficulties. The recommendations in its declaration were formed during a series of four meetings held throughout 2014, and a proposed final draft was submitted to Archbishop Takami in November, who gave it his formal approval earlier this year.
The final promulgation of the document on March 17 was performed at Oura Tenshudo Church in Nagasaki during a Mass commemorating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “hidden Christians” of Japan. Cardinal Orlando Beltran Quevedo of Cotabato was present as a special envoy of the pope.