11/21/2019, 13.50
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Bishop Machado: Pope in Japan and Thailand for a more ‘relevant’ Church

by Felix Machado*

After Bangkok, the pontiff will visit the most significant places in Japan. The Archbishop of Vasai looks at the similarities between the Indian and Japanese Churches. Both countries were evangelised by Saint Francis Xavier. In Thailand and Japan the number of Catholics is insignificant, but the Church is present through its service.

Vasai (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis' apostolic visit to Japan and Thailand is a unique opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the Church in Asia, "still considered foreign and therefore irrelevant,” writes Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai (Maharashtra) to AsiaNews.

A former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the prelate was also president of the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC).

Here he highlights the ties between Japan and India, noting that Saint Francis Xavier carried out his missionary work in both countries. He also mentions the risk of nuclear weapons and expects the Pope to take a clear position on the matter. Below are his thoughts.

the Christianity in Japan and India have some close connections. I am specifically referring to the arrival of Christianity to India the second time (XVI century) of which, we in Goa, Mumbai and Vasai are heirs. The pioneer was St Francis Xavier who was also the first Papal Legate (Nuncio) to India. He landed in Bassein (today's Vasai) and built a Church (which still remains in service) and also founded a College (ruins of which still remain). From here he went to Goa, preached the Gospel and proceeded via Melacca (Malaysia) to Kiushu, Japan (Kyoto, Nagasaki) to preach the Gospel. He preached the Gospel there and proceeded to Sanchian Island to enter China but died there.

There is another connection between Japan and India as far as Christianity is concerned, i.e. one of the 26  martyrs on the hill of Nagasaki (Kiushu) was St Gonasalo Garcia, hailing from Vasai (his mother was certainly from Canary (Vasai region).

The Shinto Religion (identified withe Japanese culture, overwhelms any other religion in Japan. However, 50% of Japanese follow Buddhism and Buddha comes from India. Buddhism entered Japan via Korea where it came from China. Japanese Buddhism became friendly with Christians in Japan, especially during the time of persecutions. Even today, Japan remains highly influenced by Shinto religion, which was the religion of the Emperors who persecuted Christians. Many sporadic efforts are made to promote interreligious dialogue but the Church still lives with strong memories of persecution. As a result, the Church does not make any headway in becoming significant in Japanese society. The Church's impact is there but the numbers of Christians is insignificant (some 400,000 Christians). The Church has institutions of higher education and there are sporadic conversions but society as whole in Japan does not seem to be interested in the Gospel of Jesus.

I have made several journeys in Japan and I am well known among Shinto, Buddhists and also Catholic Church. My journeys have been to Kiushu region (Nagasaki region). It is not only the 26 martyrs in Nagasaki but there are many more martyrs around the whole region of Kiushu (Kyoto included). There are still active lava (underearth hot liguid sources) and those who did not renounce Christianity were thrown into these hot, burning lava. The Samurai stories are well known and Endo, a convert to Christianity is a famous novelist who depicts the challenge of Christianity in Japan (Endo remains a great literary figure, but he is also a Christian who describes what it means to be a Christian in Japan. He feels that when one becomes Christian one becomes a split personality with allegiance to Christian faith and to Japanese Shinto culture). The Bishops of Japan have often brought this problematic to Rome but it falls on deaf ear because no one understands Japanese (broadly speaking, Asian culture) in Rome and things remain as they are. I hope Pope Francis will lend his listening ear to the Japanese Christians in this area.

The Holy Father will surely take the occasion to make a clear and strong statement on nuclear arms as Japan is a living example of the human disaster of nuclear weapons. For Asia the Pope's listening ear to Japan is significant in the area of inculturation (the Church talks solemnly about this but we are still scratching the surface). The canonization of Matteo Ricci, the famous Jesuit missionary in China, will also bring radical change in Church in Asia which until today is considered foreign and therefore irrelevant to Asia (except for efficient services in education, healthcare and social service).

Thailand is also another challenge for the Pope. An almost majority Buddhist nation where Theravada (conservative branch) is very strong and Christianity is insignificant. The same problem of inculturation also touches Thailand. The presence of Christians is again 0.4%.

Well, the Pope wanted to be missionary in Asia (Japan). He is going there as the Pope. Missionaries have been great transformers of the Church. Will the Pope also, now as missionary, think of Asia, listen to Asians and encourage Asians to live their realities, their Asian life while never renouncing the faith of the Apostles?

*Archbishop of Vasai

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