[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No.149 / May. 20,2009 ]

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
Since last year, as a result of the economic recession, the numbers of dispatched and foreign workers losing their jobs continues to increase and, as of February this year, the fully unemployed have reached 4.4% of the whole working population. The social committee of the Japan Bishops' Conference, confronting this sudden suffering that has caused a situation where increasing numbers of people have lost their jobs and homes, made a public appeal on January 13 demanding assistance and cooperation from parishes and religious communities.
This appeal provoked a series of reactions inside the Catholic Church to take concrete steps. As a result, various actions were taken to assist foreign unemployed workers, to help in soup kitchen activities for the homeless in need of food and to patrol the streets at night where homeless people sleep, and to conduct medical and legal activities for unemployed people.
For instance, in the western part of Shizuoka prefecture (Yokohama Diocese), assistance has been provided for Brazilians of Japanese descent and other foreign workers in Japan since the end of last year. Those workers lost their jobs due to the termination of the labor contracts at factories in the Hamamatsu and Iwata regions. Because there were many foreign workers living around Hamamatsu and thanks to the pastoral activities of the church there conducting the liturgy with Spanish-speaking people in their native language, action was speedily undertaken to hold consultation activities there.
According to a report in the Catholic Newspaper (26 April) introducing the activities of a Saturday School for Latin American immigrants at Iino parish (Saitama Diocese), the number of families receiving help since last year and up to March of this year, increased from 100 to 150. In addition to life assistance medical and counseling psychological activities have also been initiated.
One of the demands in the appeal for assistance by the social committee of the Bishops' Conference is to consider using unused facilities of the church, but concrete implementation of this gives rise to many difficult problems. Facilities can often be made available for a limited period, but in many instances a long-term use of facilities causes insuperable problems. Not many places can imitate the 2 examples in the dioceses mentioned above.
Frankly speaking, it would be good if the local administration would take the quick steps towards a solution that it should be taking, but such cases occur because it is impossible to wait any longer for the local administration to act. Similar reactions to those presented above are being conducted by various groups of citizens.
For instance, something usually forgotten regarding the issue of assisting the unemployed due to the economic recession is the involvement of groups of people with the homeless in Sanya and Kamagasaki even before the present economic situation worsened. In the activities with such unemployed workers one could find some common elements that would help to assist persons that have just lost their jobs.
People dedicated to such activities often feel that the church is not the only organ to assist those who have lost the basis of their lives and that, in addition, it is important to cooperate in the exchange of proper information to gain access to consultation with the local administration and obtain adequate assistance. This is an occasion for the church to be in direct contact with citizens' groups.
One of the results of the "Urgent Appeal for the Defense of Life" is that the Church is being asked to find ways of cooperating with people holding various positions.
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