Mitsunobu Ichiro SJ
Director of Jesuit Social Center
Thirteen members of the Jesuit social apostolate in Japan gathered on February 15, 2016, to discuss matters concerning our social apostolate.
The importance of the social apostolate in the mission given to the Society of Jesus in Japan was confirmed by the Province Congregation of May 2015 and by the official document promulgated by the Jesuit Provincial on January 16 this year: “Priorities for the Future of the Japan Province of the Society of Jesus.”
In response to Father General’s request concerning the three most important calls to the Society from the Lord today, the Province Congregation proposed the following: “To serve toward healing a wounded world (justice, peace, environmental issues).”
- To counter the discrimination, marginalization, violence and poverty issues brought about by an excessive market-centered economy, and so to work together with various people, share the suffering of the impoverished, raise our voice, and promote joint action. Also to promote theological reflection, social analysis, and positive action, including political engagement.
- To achieve a society in which, breaking the chain of violence brought about in the name of religion and culture, people can live together acknowledging their diversity, and so to promote dialogue with people of various religions and with people of no religion.
- To study worldwide environmental issues and inform society of problem areas. To work with various people in activities for providing information and solving problems.
- To raise our voice and promote joint action against the threats to life from nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons, and the military-industrial complex.
- Through our mission of education and research, to form a generation able to engage in ethical reflection and deal with the various issues connected with justice, peace and the environment in today’s world.
On January 16 this year Fr. Provincial Kajiyama outlined “Priorities for the Future of the Japan Province,” in which he refers to the social apostolate as follows:
“In the world in which Japan is situated, especially from the point of view of the politics and economics of Asia, the social apostolate is indispensable for promoting justice and serving the environment. For this reason, the social apostolate is a priority. Concretely, based on the policies of the Holy Father, the Japan Bishops’ Conference, and the Society of Jesus, we should promote worldwide networks, and while making our voice heard in solidarity with our collaborators and many others concerning such issues as the environment, nuclear power plants, awareness of history, working for peace, and the problem of poverty, we should serve research and education so as to answer the frontline needs of the world and Japan. Concerning this area, in the Asia Pacific Conference we are promoting solidarity at various levels. For example, we are actively encouraging the Society’s work in East Timor and are promoting collaboration between the Provinces of Japan and Korea.”
The priorities of the Japan Province Social Apostolate Committee for the past 10 years have been: (1) migration (2) marginalization (3) psychological distress (social exclusion) (4) ecological issues (5) peace building. All these areas are still hurting Japanese society today and should thus remain Jesuit concerns.
The 32nd General Congregation made the “service of faith and promotion of justice” (Decree 4) the mission of Jesuits today. Jesuits and collaborators, aware of the social dimensions of the Gospel, basically work together devotedly to integrate faith and justice. Therefore, the role of the social centers and of the social apostolate committee is to help Jesuits involved in social activities and to coordinate their activities. The Shimonoseki, Osaka, and Tokyo centers, while carrying on local activities, cooperate with other Church organizations and with Jesuits all over the world, and thus act toward deepening the social dimensions of the Japan Province. But the role of linking the province’s social apostolate committee with the personal mission of Jesuits involved in social issues is not yet truly recognized among members of the Province. Many seem to think that “the social apostolate is the role of special members.” As regards the Catholic Church in Japan, the Bishops try to do their best concerning justice and peace issues, but the ordinary faithful continue to see “society and religion” as separate concerns. How to break down this wall is a big issue.
On the other hand, the activities of the committee members are manifold. The Tokyo Social Center assists foreigners living in Japan through its Migrant Desk and Adachi International Academy (AIA). Seminars on Catholic teaching regarding social issues have been held for many years. Last year we had a year-long program to reread the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. The 2016 program will deal with the new encyclical Laudato Si’. Staff members are actively involved in grass root development programs with 2 NGOs, “Camboren” in Cambodia and “JapaVietnam” in Vietnam. One staff member cooperates with the Young Christian Workers (YCW/JOC) and the movement to abolish the death penalty.
Cooperation with St. Ignatius parish and parishes of the Hiroshima Diocese has improved. One staff member collaborates with several groups at St. Ignatius church, like the “Yotsuya onigiri friends,” the “curry distribution group,” “life counseling,” “cafeteria,” and the “four-leaf clover group,” which are attended by many homeless people.
One committee member is affiliated with Shibuya Free Association (Nojiren), which works silently and steadily for the lives and survival of homeless people. The Tabiji no Sato Center in Kamagasaki (Osaka) is presently searching for new roles. The Shimonoseki Labor Education Center has been refurbished and has opened again in April.
Our links to Sophia University through its Institute of Global Concern and the Faculty of Theology continue. It is worth mentioning that the special no. 116 issue of Promotio Iustitiae, published by the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, on “The Promotion of Justice in Jesuit Universities” has been translated into Japanese and has been made available to the university staff and many professors. Although the Catholic Center and Volunteer Bureau as well as individual teachers conduct social-pastoral activities and lectures, from a Jesuit point of view there is still a lack of integration. One of the priorities is to reach a closer coordination.
Some committee members who work at the university are deeply involved in activities related to the Japanese Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission. They also visit correction reformatories and FRJ refugee programs.
This coming August a Japan-Korea social apostolate exchange program among Jesuits of both countries is being planned. The common issues for discussion will focus on refugees, foreign migrant workers, history, peace and reconciliation, and labor and social justice. Personnel exchanges between both provinces (mainly for scholastics’ regency experience) and youth peace programs in Okinawa and Jeju islands are proposed as concrete forms of implementation. These could also be extended to Vietnam.
Migrant workers are a common issue in the whole Asia Pacific Conference, not only at the Japan-Korean level, and we have to think about how to broaden the network in this region. It is important to offer young scholastics opportunities to acquire a deep concern for migrants.
Because of the shortage of manpower, possibilities to act are limited but, everything considered, I think that the social apostolate of the Japan Province is doing its best to try to answer the needs of Japanese society and of the Church. Surely everyone agrees that each of us, as persons committed to Jesuit social apostolate in the world, should have an open mind and take care not to get too enclosed in local matters and plans of merely one province.
We feel the pinch of diminishing numbers in the province but, viewing this as a sign of our times, let us search for a new vision with new methods. In our relationship with the Korea Province let us not take a pessimistic view by comparing their increasing growth with our own. Let us share with Korean Jesuits the know-how we have accumulated over the years in our province.