Personal Memories on the 25th Anniversary of the Jesuit Social Center
Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  

In the last issue of this Bulletin I read that the Tokyo Social Center was going to celebrate its 25th anniversary. I am deeply affected by the work of this center that has influenced much my life.
I was still at the University when the Tokyo center was established and although I did not know its name yet, I heard about it a few years later, in the early 80s. Liberation Theology appeared in the media at that time. Persons like Yamada Keizo and Ruben Habito that were actively involved as commentators and translators of Liberation Theology works and were known not only inside Church circles, but also provoked controversies through secular media were involved in the work of the center. I also heard at that time that, Ando Isamu who caught the attention of the mass media for his work on the refugees was on the staff of the center. Nevertheless, all I could recognize then was that those researchers of Liberation Theology and those involved with refugees’ issues were some how connected to this center.
A little later, around the middle of the 80s when I joined religious life I came to hear about Fr. Ando Isamu in relation to the booklet "Aiming at building home made communities" and the exposure programs organized by the center in low-income parts of the city. In fact, I participated in the programs and seminars of the center from the late 80s. There were small communities of Jesuits and other religious congregations of Sisters involved in human rights activities and local issues of Adachi-ku and Sanya homeless, communities that through trial and error were fulfilling their prophetic roles.
During the late years of 1980 the center organized seminars and conferences on Social Catholic Teaching. Christians working for the rights of workers and foreigners, as well as people active in the homeless towns of Sanya and Kamagasaki and other regions with key social issues received inspiration from the programs and materials provided by the center, to work for the evangelization of Japanese society and to get involved in social action.
I think that the reason why the seminars and programs enjoyed good reputation was the content of the lectures and the fact that participants could caught a glimpse of up-to-date advanced methods and fresh programs. Even now the content of those materials remains relevant and I have the impression that it is now the proper time to use the booklet of Basic Christian Communities for sharing experiences, as well as to implement the programs elaborated in former years.
For instance, expressions like, "Theology of Ecology" and "Human Development" are not rare anymore, and since issues like, "How to evangelize at the local level?", "How could the churches get involve in ecological issues?", "What kind of development can improve human lives?" and others are nowadays increasingly discussed when it comes to reflect on the roles to be fulfilled by parishes and joint pastoral work. I feel there is a need for renewal.
In 1991, thanks to the introduction of Fr. Ando Isamu, director of the social center, I was able to receive practical training in some centers of the Philippines I visited. I still keep vivid images of those large centers and their programs for training rural leaders. Then, I started to write articles for this Bulletin. In 1992, in preparation for my priestly ordination, I worked for a year at the center and took care of the secretariat of "Japa Vietnam" and experienced how the center, involved in several aid projects, was a visible site for personal exchanges of NGOs active in international assistance programs.
During this period, I could realize how other centers in the network of the Tokyo Social Center, like the Kamagasaki (Osaka) Tabiji no sato and Shimonoseki’s Labor Education Center enjoyed peculiar characteristics in the activities they continue performing up to now. For instance, the Tabiji no sato center, located in the largest Japanese town for daily workers, looks for solutions to the workers’ issues and performs simple activities like night patrolling, offering, at the same time, its facilities and first hand information gathered on the issues facing daily workers to activists and scholars. The contributions of that center located inside Kamagasaki workers’ town have a special value, considering the fact that most of the other centers are in University campuses.
Although I keep many other memories of the center of Tokyo I cannot express them now. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary I wish that, from now on, the center continues offering suggestions within the Catholic Japanese Church and, occasionally, pronounces warnings, as well.

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