by Sister Masako Miyake, SNDdeN
“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.” – Pope John Paul II
In Japan, the ministries of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) are now mostly in the Hiroshima Diocese. In 1981, during a visit to Hiroshima as a pilgrim, Pope John Paul II gave his impressive Appeal for Peace to the world. Collaborating with the Church in Japan, Sisters of Notre Dame are challenged to be peacemakers.
With our co-workers, we are educating young people to be peacemakers. Although most of our students and staff are not Catholics or Christians, in all Notre Dame schools, we do have religious education classes, pray together, study the Gospel and the spirit of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Peace study is an essential part of religious education in our schools. We teach and encourage students to be peacemakers. In 1950, with the prayer for peace, Japanese and American Sisters opened Notre Dame Seishin Junior and Senior HighSchool (NDSH) in Hiroshima. Today, this school has a six-year program of peace studies.
Senbazuru ~ Symbol of Peace
Students have opportunities to hear experiences of the atom bomb from graduates; Sr. Agnes Hirota, SNDdeN is among these witnesses. All students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park “to remember Hiroshima.” Before their visit, they prayerfully make paper cranes. After sustaining serious injuries from the atom bomb, a girl named Sadako, as a prayer for her recovery, made 1,000 paper cranes (Senbazuru) before she died at age 12. Since then, other young people fulfill her desire and continue this practice with paper cranes which
have become a symbol of peace. Every year, more than ten million Senbazuru are offered to the Peace Park. Students in our school join the Recycling Project of Senbazuru by creating mosaic arts with messages for peace and send them to Catholic Schools in Korea and the Philippines; to our Heritage Centre in Namur, Belgium as well as to a Junior High School in the Japan Disaster Zone.
Challenge from the Disaster Zone
On March 11, 2011, the Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan with many deaths and heavy immediate and long-term economic and environmental damage. Official records list 15,882 deaths; 2,668 people are missing and 315,196 people are still taking refuge after two years. The tsunami caused destruction to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and released wide-spread radioactivity that has become a severe health hazard. Even now, the 100,000 people, evacuated from this area, live in fear and anxiety. People worry about the effects of radiation on their children.
After World War II, Japan chose The Peace Constitution and economic development instead of strong military power. The choice resulted from an earnest desire never to send Japanese children to the battle field nor allow the children ever to starve again. Eventually, the priority for this goal changed to profitability and efficiency, strengthened by the progression of Globalism. With these trends, national policies promote more nuclear power plants, even though scientists predict new disasters, due to other earthquakes or tsunamis.
All 50 functioning nuclear reactors in Japan, with some on the active fault, are at risk for more horrific accidents. Without a more secure environment, the people doubt survival for the next generation.
SNDdeN Collaborate with the Church
As Catholics, we are only 0.3% of the whole population. Yet, in 16 dioceses in Japan, we are united and challenged to respond to the call from the Disaster Zone. The Sendai Diocese (three disaster prefectures) organized the Support Center for victims and formed 9 bases. All dioceses send volunteers and raise money for the Support Center. Caritas Japan supports the Center financially. All Catholics, including bishops, priests, religious and lay people are serving together and sharing resources. At first, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Sisters sponsored a “Sisters’ Relay” to have Sisters from each Congregation join the volunteers for one week or more at the Support Center. During the second year, the women religious had a relay of prayer. Many Catholic schools collected donations and sent the students as volunteers. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan proclaimed: “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately.” Many dioceses encouraged parishes to study more about nuclear power.
To help victims of natural and nuclear disasters and to change our own life styles are constant challenges. Sisters in Japan are responding to the call. Each community decided on concrete targets in daily life to save electricity and live more simply. We sent Sister Mitsuko Shoji to the Sendai Support Center as a runner of Sisters’ Relay for a month and other Sisters joined with her in prayer. Notre Dame schools also sent volunteers. Sister Johanna Saiko Nakamura joined with ten students last summer in efforts to remove the debris. These experiences help the students to think about their own lives now and in the future.
Sisters in Higashi Hiroshima belong to a satellite Parish Church. At a gathering to understand more about the plight of the victims, a graduate of our school described her work mostly for children. The local welfare commissioner, responsible for taking care of the families from the Disaster Zone, shared her experiences. All attending the meeting, Christians, Buddhists and other denominations prayed the Rosary together. At the opening of the Year of Faith, the Bishops pointed out the current social situation in Japan. They asked Japanese Catholics to “share ideas with each other, and search for measures and expressions for New Evangelization with people inside and outside of the Church, while listening to the voices of suffering people.”
From: Good Works, August 2013. Visit our Good Works Archive and download a copy.
In 2014, SNDdeN will celebrate the 90th anniversary of our Mission in Japan. We hope to listen more to the voices of our people and collaborate with the Church as peacemakers.