Blog Post

Japanese Bishop: People are "Exhausted and Disoriented"

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hirago, of the hard hit diocese of Sendai, Japan, said the tragic 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck the area last Friday has had "a strong emotional impact on society," and has left one priest dead of a heart attack. Agenzia Fides is reporting that the Japanese Bishops will hold an emergency meeting on March 16 to determine how to move forward after the catastrophic quake left tens of thousands missing and nerves on edge as powerful aftershocks continue to shake the area. Added to these worries is a lack of food, gas, electricity, and a constant threat of radiation leakage from the nearby Fukushima nuclear power plants. “The situation is very difficult. We are not yet able to comprehend the enormity of the disaster. The news is fragmented," Bishop Hirago told Fides. His diocese is very large, covering over 500 km of coastland in four civil prefectures. Two parishes were affected in the prefecture of Aamori, four in Iwate, another two in Miyagi and two in Fukushima. "We still do not know how many people have died, how many have been displaced and how many are missing. And of these we have no idea how many are Catholics.” Given the uncertainty, “it is still difficult to say what can be done to help," he said. Thus far, the only known casualty from among the diocese's priests is Father Andre Lachapelle, a 76 year-old missionary from the Foreign Mission Society who was on his way from the cathedral in Sendai to his parish in Shiogama when the quake struck. "He did not drown in the flood but he died of a heart attack due to the intense motion of the earthquake," said Guy Charbonneau, superior general of the Quebec-based Foreign Mission Society. Father Lachapelle was one of only 46 priests currently serving in the diocese. Bishop Hirago said the people of his diocese "are exhausted and disorientated. The emotional and financial impact on society is enormous. Helpers and volunteers are arriving from all over Japan. We need unity and goodwill from everyone. We Catholics in the Diocese of Sendai are few more than 10,000, a little flock. However, we continue to pray for the victims and we will do everything possible to bring relief, to testify, at this time of suffering, to the message of the Christ's love.” The Japanese bishops are planning to  meet on Wednesday to determine a strategy for the future. “We will consider how to go forward. Meanwhile, we trust in God and ask for the prayers of all Christians throughout the world. We received the Holy Father's message and we thank him for his words that instil courage and hope. Today this is our specific mission: to help the nation to raise its eyes to Heaven, and to keep alive the flame of hope.” There are 10,944 Catholics in the Diocese of Sendai, a number which represents 0.15 percent of the population of the area which is over 7.2 million.  There are 53 parishes in the diocese and 13 mission stations, served by 27 diocesan priests and 19 religious priests, 5 religious brothers and 262 sisters. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®