Japan: Catholic Agencies, Parishes Join Relief Efforts Following Earthquake and Tsunami

By McElwee, Joshua J.; Ryan, Zoe | National Catholic Reporter, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Japan: Catholic Agencies, Parishes Join Relief Efforts Following Earthquake and Tsunami


McElwee, Joshua J., Ryan, Zoe, National Catholic Reporter


Catholic efforts to aid those in Japan most affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami include people from across the country and of all levels of society, say agency directors and Western missionaries there.

Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai, the city nearest to the epicenter of the quake, met March 15 with the president of Caritas Japan and other bishops to set up a process to distribute aid to the area, Sr. Cecilia Haruko Ishikawa told NCR in an e-mail. Ishikawa is the director of the department of social concerns of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan and a member of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

"We are now gathering information about the affected area, especially about ... parish churches and priests," Ishikawa wrote.

Hiraga and his diocesan chancellor, Fr. Peter Shiro Komatsu, will serve as the director and vice director of an emergency center located in the diocese, UCA News reported.

Fr. Bonnie Mendes, the regional coordinator for Caritas Asia, stressed in a phone conversation with NCR from Rome that Caritas and local churches are centralizing all their relief efforts with the government's because its response has been highly organized.

Japan's 9.0 magnitude earthquake was followed by a tsunami that wiped out entire cities and by fears of catastrophe at nuclear power stations damaged in the quake. By March 21, more than 8,600 people had been declared dead, but the death toll was expected to rise because more than 13,000 people remained missing.

The scale of the destruction is "enormous," said Gerald Martone, director of humanitarian affairs for the International Rescue Committee, an organization that provides assistance to refugees fleeing from wars and natural disasters.

"It's probably about half a million beneficiaries which need assistance, which is pretty high," Martone said. "It is of the scale of the [January 2010] Haiti earthquake or the [2004] Indian Ocean tsunami."

In e-mail conversations with NCR the week after the earthquake and tsunami, missionaries in Japan also stressed the extent of the destruction caused by the tsunami.

Maryknoll Fr. Roberto Rodriguez, who is based in Tokyo, wrote on March 16 that "there is fear and anxiety in the people," noting that the probable cause was the threat of nuclear disaster.

"People are stocking up on food, drinking water, gasoline and other necessities," Rodriguez wrote. "Many are leaving Tokyo ... school is closed ... trains are not running as usual and we have [begun] to experience the rationing of electricity."

Divine Word Fr. Mick Seigel, a member of the Japanese bishops' Council for Justice and Peace and a permanent research fellow at Nanzan University in Nagoya, said the evacuations caused by the fears of a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were only adding to the frustrations of people in the earthquake zone.

"Some ... are being asked to evacuate when they really need to be looking for missing loved ones and seeing what can be salvaged from their homes," Seigel said. …

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