Bishop Josep Maria Abella, who has been appointed the new bishop of Fukuoka in Japan, says the announcement surprised him as it comes at a time when almost all church activities are suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.The Vatican announced on April 14 that Pope Francis had moved Bishop Abella to Fukuoka, transferring him from the post of auxiliary bishop of Osaka Archdiocese. When the world is engaged in fighting coronavirus and "almost all the activities of the Church are stopped, I received a telephone call that surprised me," Bishop Abella said in a message to Fukuoka Diocese.Fukuoka had been without a bishop since April 2019 following the retirement of Bishop Dominic Ryoji Miyahara.The announcement comes as nations across the world are fighting the deadly coronavirus by suspending all non-essential activities. In the four months since it first appeared in December, Covid-19 disease has killed more than 126,000 people and infected nearly two million.
Most Catholic churches across the globe have been closed in recent weeks and even canceled last week's Easter liturgies following health guidelines to avoid crowding, which can cause human-to-human transmission of the virus. Bishop Abella said he was "perplexed" when the apostolic nuncio to Japan, Archbishop Joseph Chennoth, told him about the decision to move him to Fukuoka. He said he accepted it "since the assignment was coming from the Holy Father and it was surely the result of an accurate process of discernment."The 70-year prelate, a Claretian missionary from Lleida, Spain, has been working in Japan for more than four decades.The bishop said he does not have much connection with the Diocese of Fukuoka but said he would like to "walk together" with the Catholics of the diocese."Please, let me walk together with you, keeping alive the journey of the Diocese of Fukuoka and being attentive to the present reality. I have a lot of things to learn, so I ask you to accompany me on this journey," his message said. Bishop Abella is the second non-Japanese appointed since before World War II to head a diocese in Japan. Before that war, foreign bishops were all replaced by Japanese. In December 2017, American Franciscan Wayne Berndt was named bishop of Naha. In addition, the bishop of Saitama, Michiaki Yamanouchi, though born in Japan was raised and ordained a priest in Argentina. Fukuoka Diocese includes Fukuoka, Saga and Kumamoto prefectures. Fukuoka City, with a population of 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, is the sixth-largest city in Japan and the largest city on the island of Kyushu. With about 40,000 residents of foreign citizenship, the city is the most international in Kyushu. The Catholic population of the diocese is approximately 30,200, about 0.39 percent of the population. It is the fifth-largest diocese in Japan and is served by 66 parishes, mission stations and assembly centers. Due to conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, a date for Bishop Abella’s actual move to Fukuoka has yet to be decided.
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