Catholics On the Ground in Japan

No surprise at all:  as international relief began to arrive in fractured Japan after the awful earthquake and tsunami, among the first were Catholic agencies.

As I said, no surprise:  religious communities provide the most massive private (non-governmental) relief and care in the world, and first among the world’s communities of faith is the Catholic Church.

I know, Jesus, our founder, told us not to “blow a trumpet” when we give alms, an imperative we heed particularly during this Lenten season.  So, I hope He forgives me for this violation!

But, I’m really not doing it as an act of pride, but as an act of gratitude for our wonderfully generous Catholic people who rise to the occasion whenever there’s an international need, like the one now in Japan, and as a word of encouragement to those splendid Catholic relief agencies that so effectively bring our aid to those most in need.

Those grand folks involved in worldwide humanitarian efforts, and even government officials, tell me that the Catholic Church gets an A+ in effectively reaching out to the stricken.

Why?  For one, in most cases, the Church is already there! We don’t have to parachute workers and caregivers into a racked country, because the faithful are in place.  Parishes, schools, religious orders, shelters, clinics, orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens — already up and running.  These faithful Catholics know where the need is and hardly need directions to bring it to those hurting, because they live there.

That was true, for instance, in Haiti.  Catholic Relief Services (CRS), already had 300 people working fulltime in Haiti when the vicious earthquake struck, and they had been there for six-decades!  No wonder they’re pros at getting food, medicine, shelter, service workers, and clean water to the distressed areas.

Even in a “non-Catholic” country like Japan, the Church is still already “on the ground,” as our Catholic education, charity, and healthcare is worldwide, not just in countries where there is a large Catholic population.  After all, as the old saying goes, we don’t help people because they’re Catholic, but because we are.

A second reason why the Church has such a golden track record on international relief is because people of faith have a good reputation for honesty, integrity, zeal, thrift, and hard work.  Yes, I admit, there are ugly counter-examples to this, but, the exceptions prove the rule.

But, who choreographs all of this massive, worldwide relief effort by the Church?  Well, in most cases, it is locally run and operated — which, by the way, is a third reason why the Church shines in this area, since we are hardly handcuffed by some big, distant bureaucracy — because a fundamental principle of Catholic social justice is that of subsidiarity, that the closer you are to the people on the ground, the more effective you usually are.

So, once again to use CRS as an example, they hardly rely on a big overstructure, but get the aid to bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, and lay pastoral leaders already in the rubble.

However, some coordination, however unobtrusive, is helpful.  And that comes, as you might expect, from Rome, where the earthly pastor of the Church Universal, our Holy Father, the Pope, shows a deep, daily solicitude for the suffering of the world, and is in a strategic position to assist, given his constant meetings with bishops, religious superiors, world leaders, his own ambassadors in 190 countries of the world (called the Nuncio), and the faithful from the earth’s troubled spots.

The agency of the Holy See — the Holy Father’s government of the Church Universal — which offers some direction, guidance, and encouragement to worldwide almsgiving of the Successor of St. Peter is called Cor Unum (“One Heart”) beautifully referring to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose heart beats within His Church, especially with love and mercy for those suffering.

The President of this Pontifical Council Cor Unum is Cardinal Robert Sarah.  One of the agencies with which he closely works in Rome is called Caritas Internationalis (“International Charity”), which is a federation of Catholic agencies throughout the world dedicated to relief.

Both Cor Unum and Caritas Internationalis are highly respected.  Recently, the Holy See expressed a very laudable and understandable desire to intensify cooperation, and to strengthen the Catholic identity of Caritas as a visible, unambiguously Catholic worldwide relief work.

This seems natural, given Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is love”), which dramatically placed charity, along with teaching and the sacraments, as one of the Church’s three principal ministries.

Lent is a providential time to thank God for the heroic charity and generosity of the Church, and to affirm our conviction that our international relief is so effective precisely because it is inspired by Jesus, flows through and from His Church, and is as close to the Heart of Christ and His vicar on earth, the Pope, as possible.

Keep up the good work, Cor Unum, and Caritas Internationalis!

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6 Responses to “Catholics On the Ground in Japan”

  1. Mary says:

    Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai diocese says: \….we trust in God and ask for the prayers of all Christians…”

    Here is an update on the Church in Sendai:

    Is there a way to donate directly to the Diocese of Sendai?

  2. gary says:

    Fr. Pavone, a leader of priests for life , has used his recent notoriety and used Baby Joseph , during the transfer of Baby Joseph to the U.S. to state clearly that Islam is equivalent to Catholicism and that Islam has equal reverence for life to Roman Catholicism. This clearly differs for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, (and probably every pope who has ever served as head of the Roman Catholic Church since its founding). Certainly within the limits imposed on us by God and Christ as Christians we probably should reach out to Muslims, but not by abiding by the doctrines of Islam or violating the Bible and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church ? What do you think of the recent statements of Fr. Pavone regarding Islam ? If Fr. Pavone wishes to continue to lead Roman Catholic Christians (or Christians of almost any other denomination) he ought to be re-educated so that his statements all conform to Roman Catholic doctrine rather than leading large numbers of people into error. Or rather than serving God and/or is the focus of Fr. Pavone the enhancement of his career and/or the increase of his income and/or private jet fleet?

  3. Henry Schwalbenberg says:

    Dear Archbishop,

    Thank you for your strong advocacy on behalf of the charitable works of the church, both here at home and especially abroad.

  4. Virtually all of whatever you articulate is astonishingly precise and that makes me ponder why I had not looked at this in this light before. This particular article truly did turn the light on for me personally as far as this particular subject matter goes. But there is one point I am not too comfy with and while I make an effort to reconcile that with the actual central idea of the position, permit me observe exactly what the rest of the subscribers have to point out.Nicely done.

  5. Irene says:

    I just made a donation to support the relief efforts in Japan. I saw on the news that donations to the earthquake/tsunami victims lag far behind donations made for Haiti and for Katrina, and the people of Japan could really use any help the rest of us can give right now.

    People who want to support the relief efforts can give directly on the CRS website.

  6. Anne Winter says:

    I lived and worked in Japan between 2005 and 2009. I grew to love very much my Japanese sisters and brothers, and I worry about them all now. Japan, I think will undergo many changes following the natural disasters of both the earthquake and tsunami. They will, I think, probably have to query their reliance on nuclear power.

    I want to support the Archbishop’s statements of the Catholic Church being ‘on the ground’ in Japan. I lived in Nara, which has I felt had a ‘quiet’ presence of Catholicism. I also stayed for the greater amount of time in the northern city of Sapporo, which has a more ‘robust’ presence of Catholicism.

    Growing up in Australia, I experienced all the wealth that the Catholic Church has to offer: many churches, priests, religious orders, parochial schools — a truly Christian atmosphere … somewhat later taken for granted. But in Japan, the Church seemed like a lovely, warm beacon on love, gentleness and kindness — not only to me, and to other foreigners like me — but to everyone. I think many Japanese truly appreciated the benefits of having the Church in their midst.

    I remember and I will always truly cherish: the Franciscan Fathers and the Franciscan Sisters — for their gentleness, hospitality, concern and the love they all shared with me. Through them, I rediscovered my Church … but importantly, I renewed my own love and understanding of God.

    Pray for Japan.