The 72-person-Group for the Support of People with Social Withdrawal

Okishita Masahiro, SJ
  In March 2011, I opened a consultation office following up on the inauguration of a group that I had started on the feast of the Holy Family in 2010. In January 2012 we began to hold prayer meetings twice a month. Then from April on we had Mass every first Sunday of the month for people afflicted with social withdrawal. Finally, we were able to hold a “Tokyo Catholic Assembly for the Support of People with Social Withdrawal.” At this Assembly we posted a message of support for those saddled with various kinds of suffering in their lives. We ourselves renewed our desire to be friends with everybody.
  Let me tell you first about the prayer meetings. Since I had been quite moved by a passage in St John’s gospel read during the Easter season, I selected it as the theme for the prayer meeting of July 26. The prayer group prepared a printed sheet with hints for various themes and graces to be prayed for in order to maintain silence between the meditation and the reflection time. The words of St John “Blessed are those who believe without having seen” (John 20: 24) were printed on the sheet. The grace to be asked for is always to look into oneself and open one’s heart.
  The prayer meetings begin at 10:45 with time for listening to the word of God. Then I give hints for prayer based on the passage read. Sometimes there is an explanation of the Bible or personal reflections inspired by the passage and a thanksgiving prayer for the inspiration obtained.
  That day I talked about Thomas “the Doubter.” He was invited by the risen Jesus to put his finger into the wounds remaining from the nailing to the cross. In this way Thomas attained certitude that the risen Jesus was the same Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified. Thomas thus witnessed to the resurrection. That happened two thousand years ago. So what can I do now to become a witness of the resurrection?
  My witness is to show my open wounds to testify that these wounds are mine and manifest me. Because the risen Jesus showed Thomas his wounds, I do the same with regard to my own wounds.
From this hint of that day I realized the importance of what I had been thinking concerning our 72-Person-Group, that is to say, the importance to be given to Catholic teaching and the identity of the participants.
  This movement of support for people afflicted with social withdrawal is not some fresh social movement introduced into the Church. People experiencing wounds simply gather together and, acknowledging their pain and suffering, their bitterness and shame, share them with Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of our gatherings.

  In our monthly Masses I propose the following intentions

  1. In Japan about 700,000 people are afflicted with social withdrawal. These persons and their families find it difficult to socialize with others and continue living isolated lives. Although they desire to resume normal social life, they remain unnoticed and distant from people. I want to offer Mass so that their pain and suffering, the cries of their hearts may reach God the Father through Jesus Christ.
  2. These persons can be helped. Support given by one person is difficult but it becomes easier when it is given by a group. I want to pray that they may open the windows of their hearts and their families and can participate in society again.
  3. Social withdrawal carries a negative social meaning and it is difficult to come forward. Nevertheless, I want to offer the Mass together with them, whatever their unknown identities might be. During Mass we pray to obtain support from others.
  With all this in mind I pray for these intentions at Mass, and not only once a month. I urge others to do the same. Again, whenever I attend Sunday Mass, I believe it is permitted to pray for this, no matter how exceptional it may be.
  After Mass we meet for group sharing. The families also attend and socialize together. After Mass I always I invite everyone, but many say that the Mass alone is sufficient. Only 5 or 10 persons remain.
  On Thursday afternoons I offer the opportunity for consultations. At the beginning nobody came, but I thought it was meaningful for the parents to know there is a place for them to come. Even if people knew I was there but did not come, I was there for anyone who would dare to step in. Little by little the place became known and people started to come. As a result, people came to talk about their problems, so I decided to start a system of bi-weekly appointments. Recently, since requests for consultations have increased, I have changed over to weekly appointments.
  SST (Social Skills Training) workshops under the guidance of Professor Shoda Hisako of Luther University have been held twice a year, in spring and autumn. We had four sessions in this year’s spring seminar and six in autumn (each session lasts two and a half hours). Ten people participated. We are now preparing a program for next year.
  On October 8 (Sports Day) we held the “Tokyo Catholic Assembly for the Support of People with Social Withdrawal.” The main theme was hikikomori ake, meaning that just as the day dawns or a new year is at hand, so the situation of people socially isolating themselves can proceed toward social rehabilitation. The assembly opened at noon with a symposium, during participants shared their painful experiences. After that there was half an hour for prayer. The event ended with a Mass.
[N.B. Those interested in this social issue can find a list of Japanese books in the Japanese edition of this Bulletin.]

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