37 Years History of the Jesuit Social Center Tokyo

Ando Isamu SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff (First Director)

  In the past, almost all social and welfare institutions, like Jochi Settlement and Christmas Village, as well as programs conducted by Jesuits in Tokyo had direct connection with Sophia University. But, with modern changes in Japanese society, Jesuits realized that deep engagement in society as desired by recent official Jesuit Congregations was rather difficult to accomplish with a university connection.

  Following the reforms in the Church promoted by Vatican II, Jesuits selected in the 1970s the “promotion of Justice and Faith” as a priority option. Since that time, Jesuits engaged in the social apostolate often appealed to the Jesuit Japan Province for the need to establish an independent “Social Jesuit Center.” Nevertheless, the reply often given was that there was neither space available nor staff to run such a center. However, in 1980, a completely unexpected incident occurred. A lady named Elisabeth Pedro, who had been close to the Jesuits, passed away and all her property was donated to the Japan Province. Thus, a new center was born and three Jesuit members were sent there. Two among them continued their work at Sophia University, and only I (Ando) retired from the University and became a full-time staff member of the center.

Confronting the changes of Japanese society
  The new Social Pastoral Center in Tokyo, taking as reference several of the 324 Jesuit social centers (as of 2005) scattered around the world, concentrated on grasping the situation of domestic and foreign social problems as related to Japan. We selected priority issues while doing social analysis at the same time.

  However, since several of us were already carrying out concrete activities and research connected with the social apostolate, we decided to include these in the planning of the new center. Actually, from the start, one of the characteristics was the importance given to the relationship between Japan and neighboring Asian countries. Different from nowadays, there was no Jesuit East Asian Conference yet and Japan had started to get involved in the economic development of East Asian countries.

  At the same time, Jesuit members involved in the social apostolate in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea launched a network called SELA (Socio-Economic Life in Asia) in a Tokyo conference with the aim of making Catholic social teaching known in East Asia. They desired to implement it with concrete programs to alleviate situations of poverty which dominated the region. The commemorative 200th issue of the “Social and Pastoral Bulletin” published by our Center provides an opportunity to examine the historical steps followed by our Center.

  On July 8, 2006 we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Tokyo Center. I was its director at that time and reviewed the progress of those 25 years. Time has elapsed since then, but the orientation remains the same. I will synthesize here what the center is doing.

Establishment of the “Social Center”
 ◎ Characteristics: Research on social problems and publication activities
 ◎ Public awareness and human development
 ◎ Activities with the poor

  The Center is established and supported by the Jesuit Japan Province.
  The Tokyo Center has also links to
the Jesuit Social Central Secretariat in Rome
the Jesuit East Asian Region (JCAP) in Manila
the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Thailand

Catholic organizations
  Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, Migrants Network

Citizen NGO organizations
  “Japa-Vietnam,” Camboren,” RASA, Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines (JCBL), Adachi International Academy (AIA) for migrant workers,”Stop the Death Penalty,” “Movement against the Reform of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution”, etc.

Workers of foreign nationality
  A new critical challenge in Japanese society. An important issue for the Catholic Church.
  Focus in Adachi-ku (Tokyo) with pastoral and educational activities. The organization of Adachi International Academy (AIA), legal consultations, visits to immigration retention centers.

Socio-economic development projects in East Asia
  Support projects and international cooperation for fighting “poverty” in Asian countries.
  Exposure programs in Asian countries for Japanese students and educators (from the 1970s) focused on Thailand, the establishment of RASA organization, the establishment of “Camboren,” a citizens’ group to assist projects of poor communities in Cambodia for their self-support, and “Japa-Vietnam,” a different organization, with a similar purpose in Vietnam.

  “Social and Pastoral Bulletin
  Books and booklets
  Seminar Reports

Awareness-raising programs
  Catholic social doctrine seminars, social analysis and volunteer training programs, exposure programs in Japan and Asian countries.
  Nationwide campaigns: Educational campaign for landmine abolition, Jubilee campaign for the cancellation of international debt, Stop the death penalty.

Vision of Former Superior General Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach on the Social Apostolate
  On the occasion of the Great Jubilee of 2000, Fr. Kolvenbach sent a letter to all Jesuits (19 January 2000) in which he summarized Jesuit involvement in modern society. I consider that letter a guide for Jesuit apostolate in Japan and a thermometer to measure the commitments selected in our social centers.

  Let me select here his most important remarks. As Fr. Kolvenbach reminds us, “Authoritatively synthetizing the progress of the four General Congregations after Vatican II, the Complementary Norms affirm: the contemporary Jesuit mission is the service of faith and the promotion in society of the Justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy… This mission is a single but complex reality, which develops in a variety of ways.”(Quoting NC no.245)

  “The social apostolate, like every form of our apostolate, flows from the mission; in the planning of our apostolic activities, in fulfilling today’s mission of the Society in the service of faith, it should take its place among those having priority. Its goal is to build a fuller expression of justice and charity into the structures of human life in common… The social apostolate takes multiple forms: social research and publications, advocacy and human development, and direct social action with and for the poor”… (Quoting NC no.298-300)

  “This awareness of the social dimension of our mission does not always find concrete expression in a vital social apostolate. On the contrary, the latter manifests some troubling weaknesses. There seem to be ever fewer Jesuits available and less prepared for the social apostolate”…

  “Experience has taught us to ground our social commitment squarely upon the foundation of our Ignatian spirituality and our Jesuit tradition… We recognize that it is not possible to call oneself a companion of Jesus if one does not share His love for those who suffer.”

  Again, Fr. Kolvenbach, mentioning the endless plural approaches and variety of methods and organizational methods that constitute an enormous richness of the social apostolate, remarks that it very much needs adequate coordination. “At the same time, a greater flow of useful and up-to-date information is needed in the social apostolate within Provinces and beyond them… The social apostolate of the Society is notable for its presence at all the various levels from the grassroots to international bodies, and in all the various approaches from the direct form of service, through working with groups and movements, to research, reflection and publication.”

  Finally, the development of the social apostolate cannot take place without the availability of qualified Jesuits and co-workers. Well-designed programs within a Province or inter-Provincially must be fostered. At the same time, “young Jesuits should be in contact with the poor, not just occasionally, but in a more sustained manner.” And in referring to our non-Jesuit co-workers, opportunities for learning, reflection, prayer and on-going formation need to be offered to them. (GC34, no.67)

  “The commitment of the Society to a radical life of faith that finds expression in the promotion of justice” has been, is and will be a great grace for us all. (Cf. GC34, no.33)

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