Thanksgiving Mass for the Centenary of the Catholic Diocese of Niigata
Homily by Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
7 October, 2012

"The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people" (John 1:4)

We have been trying to shine the light, which is the light shining in the darkness and the light of life, and to hold it high in Niigata diocese. United in the one faith, being a part of One Body, Catholics in Niigata diocese have made great and sincere efforts to be witnesses of the light through our words and deeds for one hundred years. As we enter the new period of the history, let us acknowledge the achievement of our ancestors in faith who created the history of the diocese and show our gratitude. At the same time, we have to be grateful to the providence of God who has been leading the Church community at the helm and have to renew our commitment to respond to his call.
History of evangelization in prefectures of Niigata, Yamagata and Akita started more than 400 years ago. Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa and the memorial site of martyrs in Sado island are the clear evidence of early presence of Christians in this area. The community of Christians in Yonezawa led by Blessed Louis Amakasu Uemon in 17th century counted more than two thousand members according to the record. Their strong and vigorous witnesses of faith through words and deeds, especially by the 53 Blessed Martyrs, have created steadfast foundation of our Church community.

After the period of persecution of Christians in Japan, missionaries returned to Niigata and started evangelization effort in 1871, which is 141 years ago. On 13 August, 1912, after almost 40 years of re-evangelization effort, the Apostolic Prefecture of Niigata was established with territories from Akita, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures taken from Hakodate diocese and Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui from Tokyo diocese. The Society of the Divine Word, SVD, was made in charge of the Apostolic Prefecture with appointment of Msgr. Joseph Reiners, SVD, as its first Prefect. Fifty years later on 16 April, 1962, the Apostolic Prefecture was made a diocese and Bishop John Shojiro ITO, then a parish priest of Yamate in Yokohama, was appointed as its first diocesan bishop.
Though one hundred years has passed since Niigata became an apostolic prefecture and fifty years as a diocese, this area has never been considered as greener pastures for missionaries since the time of Hakodate diocese. The diocese has local population of more than four million. However, according to the statistics for past 40 years, Catholic population has been always around seven thousand. If we look at the statistics to evaluate our evangelization effort, then we might be called a failure. However, what is important for us is not just finding better results in numbers. The crucial point is whether we have been able to be a bright light shinning in darkness and to bring real light of life to people and to this society or not. We have to examine our way of life as Christians.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, "Verbum Domini," Holy Father writes:
"In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the gordinary maintenanceh of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community." (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini 95)
Then Holy Father reminds us that "Church is a community that hears and proclaims the word of God." (VD 51) and challenges us to re-examine our fidelity to this call to be Church. After 100 years of evangelization activities, have we been able to create a community of matured Catholics in this diocese? Is our enthusiasm for evangelization still burning in our hearts? Have we been faithfully trying to listen to the Word of God and to disseminate it?

On the occasion of the centenary, the Niigata diocese has revised its 3 priorities in evangelization. These are as follows:
1: To build "our Church", one which is filled by joy and compassion through overcoming differences created by age, nationality and cultural diversity.
2: Realizing the responsibilities of the Catholic Church in society through exchanges of information within the diocese, districts and parishes.
3: To continue to nurture and deepen our faith, so that we may be witnesses of the Gospel both through our words and deeds in the midst of contemporary society
Parishes in the diocese faces quite common challenges such as: less kids and more elderly members, massive rural exodus of population, differences of language and culture among members, aging priests and religious and no vocation, and absence of youth in parishes.

However, we are still able to see bright lights even in these difficulties such as existence of migrant Catholics, especially from Philippines, whom, I believe, God has sent to Japan as missionaries of our time. It's providence of God.
The 3 priorities lead us to find the best way of the action in evangelization for the entire diocesan community in order to be witnesses of Gospel even though we face so many of difficulties. On this occasion of the Centenary celebration, let us re-commit ourselves to this important activities of evangelization together with other members of the one community.

Fifty years ago on 11 October, 1962, the Second Vatican Council opened a session. In commemoration of this great event of the modern Catholic history, Holy Father announced to observe the "Year of Faith" starting from 11 October. In Niigata Diocese, today's Mass is also the opening Mass for the "Year of Faith." As we try to re-discover the very basics of our faith, we are also challenged to reconfirm our commitment to the mission. In this context, it is really providential to have both the Centenary of the diocese and the "Year of Faith" within the same year.
On Christmas in 1961, Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council with the Apostolic Constitution "HUMANAE SALUTIS." In the Apostolic Constitution late Pope wrote as follows:
"While humanity is at the threshold of a new age, immensely serious and broad tasks await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of her history. It is a question in fact of bringing the perennial life-giving energies of the Gospel to the modern world" (HS 3)
Let us pray that the Niigata Diocese would be able to bring "the perennial life-giving energies of the Gospel to the modern world." As we celebrate the centenary of the diocese, let us pray that God may provide us continuous guidance and blessings as ever.