By Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI donated $100,000 to Japan’s bishops to help in their relief efforts following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that officials estimate could have killed more than 10,000 people.
“The images of the tragic earthquake and the consequent tsunami in Japan have left us deeply horrified,” the pope said after his Sunday Angelus. “I want to renew my spiritual closeness to that country’s dear people, who with dignity and courage are dealing with the consequences of the calamity. I pray for the victims and their families and for all who are suffering because of these terrible events. I encourage all those who, with laudable speed, are working to bring help.”
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s charity promotion and coordinating office, announced the pope’s donation.
“Obviously, material, concrete aid is necessary” to help the thousands who are suffering, Msgr. Anthony Fig-ueiredo, a Cor Unum official, told Vatican Radio. “Also, the bishops are the first responsible for charity in the diocese and they know the needs of the people.”
“The church wants to be there not only in the short term but especially in the long term,” after “many of the secular agencies have gone and there’s no one to help,” he said.
Japan’s bishops planned to meet Wednesday in Sendai, one of the areas most devastated, to discuss how to help the victims.
Reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were hit by explosions and Japanese officials were working to avoid leakage of radiation. They ordered evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people.
Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai said many area residents, cut off without electricity and with some phone service just restored, were unaware of the worsening situation at the Fukushima plant.
“You living in other countries have a much better idea of the tragedy,” the bishop told Vatican Radio on Tuesday.
“We are terrified,” the bishop said. “We only have the government announcements, we have no other source of information. We don’t even know what has happened to our parishes in the towns and villages along the coast. We have no way of contacting them. I can only hope that the people of my diocese can stand together and be strong enough to overcome this disaster.”
The Sendai diocese said Father Andre Lachapelle of the Quebec Foreign Mission Society had died en route from Sendai to his church about nine miles away. There were conflicting reports of whether he suffered a heart attack or was lost in a tsunami.
The U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services (crs.org) was working with Caritas Japan to provide assistance.
In a statement, Caritas Japan said it would concentrate on meeting the needs of people with no access to public services and on the rehabilitation phase of recovery.
Prayers in L.A.
In Los Angeles on Sunday, parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Chapel in the city’s Little Tokyo gathered to offer prayers for the Japanese people.
Auxiliary Bishop Alex Salazar of Los Angeles joined Father Richard Hoynes, chaplain at St. Francis Xavier, and Father Niko Fati Falaniko Leota from the local Samoan Catholic community as a show of unity with the Japanese people. Representatives from the Kateri Circle, Filipino and Chinese ministries were also on hand.
The bishop prayed that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha would intercede on behalf of the people of Japan. “Help us to know that with Christ we can accept all of the difficulties of life.”
Watching Japan-based NHK television almost nonstop has become a common activity for this community of Japanese Americans who, when the quake and tsunami hit, were frantic to connect with loved ones, family and friends.
“I feel like I am watching it all day and night,” said Atsuko Beal, who was happy to learn that local telephone companies in Japan – whose service was disrupted — created websites so family members can send note to let others know they are OK.
“I couldn’t reach my people by cell phone or e-mail for a while,” Beal told The Tidings, Los Angeles archdiocesan newspaper. “Finally I got an e-mail and I know they are fine, but they are getting cold. I was lucky to hear from them.”
Japan is still in the throes of winter. “The cherry blossoms don’t appear until the end of April to May,” explained Beal. “This is a cold time there but we are a strong people.”
“Look at some of the photos and you’ll see snow on the mountains and flakes swirling around,” added George Takahashi, whose sister-in-law and nephew live in an area northwest of Tokyo.
A national adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Japanese ministry, Takahashi is a longtime parishioner at St. Francis Xavier and Japanese Catholic Center, who is active in the U.S. bishops’ cultural diversity network. But he has been focused on what is happening in Japan.
“I’m told that all the electricity is out and they live in a multistory condo with no water either,” said Takahashi of his Japanese family members. “It’s pretty bad and I’m worried that with the cold, things will get worse.”
In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service in Washington March 14, Takahashi said most of the 800 to 900 members of St. Francis Xavier, a mission of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, are U.S.-born, many with roots going back generations. The community will celebrate its 100th anniversary in Los Angeles next year.
Though like himself, many people have extended family who live in Japan, he said, adding that the largest concentrations of Catholics there are in the southern part of the country, where damage from the earthquake and tsunami was less severe.