Japanese Church 'in shock' after massive earthquake and tsunami

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A man reads the Asahi Shimbun breaking news edition. Credit: Luis Jou

Catholic relief workers are mobilizing to help the victims of a tsunami caused by the largest earthquake in Japanese history on March 11. The waves are expected to reach countries throughout the Pacific Ocean, including New Zealand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The chancellor of the Diocese of Niigata in northern Japan, Fr. Koichi Otaki, said the country was “still in shock over what has happened.”

The 23-foot waves reportedly hit the nearby Diocese of Sendai hardest. Government officials say they have already found up to 300 bodies in Sendai, near the epicenter of the earthquake, where more than 100 people are confirmed dead and 350 are reported missing.

Fr. Otaki communicated the support of Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, telling Fides news service that Japanese Catholics, while few in number, “will not walk away from our commitment and solidarity with the victims.”

Bishop Kikuchi is also the president of the relief agency Caritas Japan, which will be working to assist victims of the earthquake and resulting waves.

“The tsunami reminds us of the precariousness of life,” said Fr. Otaki. “Solidarity and assistance to the victims will certainly be our Lenten commitment.”

As Caritas takes stock of the situation in Japan in order to help victims, Catholic Relief Services is mobilizing to provide support in other countries in the Pacific, anticipating the violent waves' arrival on their shores.

Sean Callahan, Catholic Relief Services' executive vice president for overseas operations, said personnel were prepared to assist victims directly and through their partnership with Caritas.

“We know from 2004 the devastating impact that these tsunamis can have,” said Callahan. An earthquake and Tsunami on Dec. 26 of that year killed nearly 230,000 people in Indonesia, Thailand, and other nearby countries.

“As with all such disasters,” he stated, “CRS will help people recover from the emergency and stand with them as they recover in the months and years to come.”

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