Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Japanese Catholicism Seen by a Korean

Japan, a country near yet far from Korea, hosts a Catholic Church that is near both in distance and in feeling, says a Korean priest who gives us his views of the Japanese Church, as he has seen it during his 19 years in Japan.

He mentions that the conservatives in the government still have a colonial mentality, and that he has felt some prejudice among the people because of his Korean nationality, though this attitude is changing, he says. Visiting the historic sites near where he works, he sees what the Korean ancestors have given to Japan and feels a sense of pride in being Korean. The Japanese are beginning to look at their past, feeling embarrassed, and wanting to atone for it.

The estimate of Japanese martyrs range from 40 to 50 thousand. The persecutions started in the 16th century and continued until 1873, when it officially ended. However, the government, up to 1945 and even after, has been reluctant to disown the crimes of the past, and the Japanese themselves have difficulty, with their unique religious disposition, to leave the past behind.

The missionaries who arrived after the persecution did not make sufficient effort, he believes, to inculurate Christianity but merely translated Christian culture into Japan instead of adapting the externals of the religion to the culture and the traditions they found there.Furthermore, the Church's reliance on help from foreign aid gave the impression that the religion was a foreign import. A view the Church has never been able to erase.

Japan of 400 years ago had 400 thousand Catholics. Today, surprisingly, the Catholic Church has approximately the same numbers: 444 thousand Catholics, now organized in 16 dioceses and 797 parishes, with 1,475 priests and 5,766 religious. Compared to the Korean Church of today, it is a far less active Church. Especially when visiting the rural areas you will see parishes, even on Sundays, with no more than 10 people at Mass, and most parishes would have less than 10 people baptized in a year.

However, he goes on to say we cannot say that Japan has not accepted Christianity; the Christians of today are respected. The 854 kindergartens and mission schools are a good example of this. Not only Christians but even some non-Christians are interested in providing their children with a Christian foundation for their children's education.

The educated Japanese often refer to Christian teachings in their works. And when it comes to marriage, many Japanese prefer, even more than the Shinto, the Christian rites for weddings.

The Japanese Church is spiritually strong, the priest says, though few Japanese are Catholic. The priests often do their own cleaning and washing, taking are of all their needs by themselves. They often teach catechism and Scripture to just one person and yet it takes your breath away, he says, to see how thorough they continue to be in their pastoral work.

Two years ago when the tsunami devastated Japan many Christians were involved in the clean up and caring for the injured. The Church also continues its concern for the foreign workers in Japan, offering  Masses in different languages, a good example for the Korean Church to follow. He ends the article by asking for prayers that Japanese Christianity adapt itself more to Japanese culture than it has in the past, understand and put into practice the teachings of Vatican II, and that it will find a way to grow and prosper in the years ahead.