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Use of nuclear power debated in Japan.

ROME -- The Catholic bishops of Japan, which is still dealing with effects from the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, have asked Pope Francis to warn against the use of nuclear power in his upcoming encyclical on the environment.

Meeting the pope in Rome during their March 20 ad limina visit, the Japanese bishops asked that he say nuclear power has "very serious problems that threaten life."

"We are very clearly against the Japanese nuclear power plants," Tokyo Auxiliary Bishop James Kazuo Koda said in an interview March 22.

Koda said that while the encyclical may not mention nuclear power "in very concrete terms," the pope "could say that human pride has been doing much damage to the environment and there are some very, very serious problems that threaten life. In this context, he could mention nuclear power plants."

Koda, who is also the vice president of Caritas Japan, spoke March 22 in an NCR interview that also included Tokyo Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada, president of the Japanese bishops' conference.

Okada and Koda visited with the pope March 20 with 14 other Japanese bishops during their ad limina, a formal visit in which bishops report to the pope on their individual dioceses.

The NCR interview lasted about an hour and was conducted in a mixture of English and Japanese with the help of Japanese Mercedarian Sr. Filo Shizue Hirota. The two prelates talked about the visit, the changes Francis is bringing to the church, and a message the Japanese episcopacy released on the 70th anniversary of the end of World Warn.

Francis is known to be working on an encyclical that is to address environmental and ecological issues.

The vice director of the Vatican press office, Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini, said that the pope had cleared his schedule the week before Holy Week to focus on a "final revision" on the document, which is expected to be published in June or July

The use of nuclear power has been a subject of debate in Japan since the 2011 meltdown, which followed an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of the city of Sendai.

The country's power plants have been shut down since the accident, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to restart at least one-third of the country's 54 reactors. The Japanese bishops have opposed that plan, saying the Fukushima disaster shows the need to move to renewable energy sources.

The secretary general of the Japanese bishops' conference, Fr. Ryohei Miyashita, who was also part of the NCR interview, said Francis was "very interested" in hearing the bishops' concerns about nuclear energy.

"He said that civilization could destroy civilization," Miyashita said.

"He said that humankind constructs a civilization and because of human pride, humanity goes beyond the limitations," said Miyashita.

Okada added, "Humankind has to be more humble, listen to the voice of God, and to the simpler life."

Okada noted that this ad limina visit was "very different" than the previous three such visits he has made since becoming Tokyo's archbishop in 2000. Okada said while Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI preferred to meet a country's bishops one by one, Francis sits with the whole group at once.

"The atmosphere is quite changed," Okada said. "The pope wanted to have communication on any issue. You can say anything, any question."

The archbishop said Francis particularly asked about the status of family life in Japan, asking if the bishops were dealing with a high number of divorce cases. The pope, Okada said, also expressed concern about the low birthrate in Japan, where the population shrank by some 268,000 people in 2014, according to government figures.

The pope had a particular concern about how Catholic ministry will continue with the population decline, Okada said, as Catholics are a very small minority Out of Japan's population of some 127 million, only an estimated 500,000 are Catholic.

In light of the minority of Catholics in the country, Japan's bishops focus their efforts on interreligious work, especially with the Shinto and Buddhist populations, Okada said.

"Christians are just a very, very small group," he said. The bishops "try to have the same aim and to try to resolve the very complex problems" facing their society alongside other religious leaders, he said.

The archbishop said religious leaders cooperate particularly to address environmental issues.

"Any believer should be involved in this very serious problem that affects the whole world and humankind," he said.

Okada continued: "If we don't really face all these very human problems, including environmental problems, other people might think: 'What are these people doing? They are not really concerned or involved or committed to the very serious problems that will affect all humanity, or the whole universe.' "

Speaking of the Christian understanding of the human role in the environment, the archbishop said, "We may have made a mistake concerning our attitude to nature or the environment."

"Genesis says that we should have control over every creature," Okada said. "But we should have control according to the will of God. But we are not God.

"We are too much predominant over nature," he continued. "Pope Francis told us during our ad limina that humankind should obey the good of nature, which God gave us."

The Tokyo archbishop also spoke at length about the message he and his fellow bishops released in February for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The five-point statement from the Japanese bishops' conference commits the church to work toward peace--especially the protection of an article in Japan's postwar constitution that renounces war and forbids the government from maintaining a military.

That article, the ninth in the Japanese constitution, has come under debate in recent years, especially as Abe's government has sought to reinterpret its meaning to allow Japan to enter into collective self-defense treaties with other countries.

"It is a matter of course that we Japanese bishops respect the ideals of Japan's no-war Constitution," reads the bishops' message. "For Christians, the renunciation of war is demanded by the Gospel of Christ. It is a respect for life that cannot be abandoned by religious people and an ideal that is held firmly by the whole human race."

Okada said the prevailing mindset in Japan about the constitution is changing, and there is a new tendency among some to downplay the atrocities committed by the Japanese armed forces during the war.

"For example, there is some tendency that wants us to renew our history of invasion, colonialism, and relation toward neighboring countries--they say it is not true," the archbishop said. "There are some people who disagree, and this opinion is becoming bigger and bigger."

The Japanese bishops "don't have much power to change the situation," he said. "But we should say this and we may be able to create something, something new."

Asked about how the Japanese bishops' renunciation of war fits with the teaching of the Vatican and of other bishops' conferences that still permits the use of war under the so-called just-war criteria, Koda said the Japanese refer to Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris.

That encyclical states that in an age of nuclear weapons, "it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice."

Koda also referred to the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (1965) and to Pope John Paul II's remarks during his visit to Hiroshima, Japan, in 1981, when he said, "Clashes of ideologies, aspirations and needs can and must be settled and resolved by means other than war and violence."

Asked particularly about how the Japanese church might advise church diplomats who are considering the use of force in the Middle East, where the Islamic State group has killed many Christians, Koda said: "There's a situation where dialogue is almost impossible.

"But at the same time, we never think that violence can bring about peace," he continued. "We don't believe it. It's impossible."

Caption: Thousands of protesters march through Tokyo March 8, calling for the government to end atomic power in the country.

Caption: Tokyo Electric Power Company workers and foreign journalists walk past a reactor building at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan March 24.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent His email address is]


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Title Annotation:WORLD
Author:McElwee, Joshua J.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 10, 2015
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