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Updated: January 02, 1990 05:00 PM GMT
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Following a recent Vatican directive, Catholics in Japan celebrated the Feast of Mary Mother of God on Jan. 1, even though the country´s bishops had decided otherwise.

Until the new directive, the Japan Catholic Bishops´ Conference transferred every mandated holy day, except Christmas, to the following Sunday, a policy allowed under Canon Law with the prior approval of the Holy See.

With Vatican prompting, the bishops of Japan reviewed the policy last year, and in a letter April 6, Archbishop Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi of Tokyo informed the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP) that "the bishops of Japan do not consider it opportune" to include the Feast of Mary Mother of God among the holy days of obligation.

Cardinal Jozef Tomko, CEP president, recently notified Archbishop Shirayanagi in a letter that after having examined the question, the pope decided the feast day "should be maintained" in Japan.

Cardinal Tomko wrote, "Above all, the Feast of Mary Mother of God is the only Feast of the Madonna celebrated in Japan. Moreover, the first of January is not only a national feast (it is a day of rest for all and therefore will not become ´too heavy a burden´), but it is considered to be the most important feast of the Japanese people and the most solemn of the year.

"On New Year´s Day, in fact, many Japanese go to temples and sanctuaries to ask for a divine blessing for the new year. It is therefore also only right that the Catholics begin the new year invoking the blessing of the Lord through the intercession of His Mother."

Cardinal Tomko offered historical rationale for the Vatican decision as well. " ... When Bishop L. Cerqueira arrived in Japan, he held a consultation in November 1598 with the missionaries and established that on the feast of the first day of the year a religious feast be dedicated to the Madonna, (On-Mamori Santa Maria) ... And the Christians were very pleased to see the great feast of the first day of the year sanctified. These facts, which enrich the traditions of the people and sanctify them, form part therefore of the missionary tradition."


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