Japanese Catholic youth: Pope Francis ‘like a grandfather to us’

Tokyo, Japan, Nov 23, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Wearing a white t-shirt with a cartoon of Pope Francis, Minori Takeuchi energetically bounces up and down in Joseph Hall, switching between English and Japanese as she tells friends to come to the library.

Minori is a student at Sophia University, a Jesuit school in the heart of Tokyo. It’s a nationally revered institution, famous for its high-performing students and academic integrity.

Unlike many Catholic high schools and universities in Japan, which downplay and often ignore their religious ties, Sophia celebrates and promotes Catholicism overtly. It is a partner of the Pope in Japan 2019 campaign, and will host a post-pope media event later in the week.

Pope Francis is visiting Japan Nov. 23-26. They pope is scheduled to meet with youth Nov. 25.

Catholic News Agency visited Sophia University shortly before the pope arrived in the country, and sat down with more than a dozen students, youth leaders, and laity the local diocese to talk about the pope’s upcoming speech to the nation.

The group talked to CNA about their hopes for the pontiff’s address, and what topics they felt deserved to be touched on.

“It creates an opportunity to talk,” said Damien, 25, a Filipino Catholic working for Hino Motors Ltd. in the Tokyo area.

“His coming here is giving us a channel to talk about Christianity and Catholicism.”

Damien says his coworkers don’t really understand Christianity as a religion, and have little exposure to Christians in Japan. Many people only interact with Christians through their charity collections.

When Damien told coworkers that he is a Catholic, they asked him if he was collecting money for something.

He hopes the pope’s visit will force more people to think critically about Christianity and become more familiar with the basics of its beliefs.

“There is a pressing need for unity. There is a great need to bond.”

Naoya, 25, is a leader for local Catholic youth groups. With thick glasses and a quick smile, Naoya made light-hearted jokes about Catholic life in Japan. However, on the topic of his hopes for the pope’s speech, he became more earnest.
In one word, he said, what he wants is “encouragement.”

“To be serious, I want a message for young people,” he said, “Junior high school students, high school students, college students – young people have passion and ideas for Catholicism. Young people have some feelings for the environment and [for] other people.”

Yuki Iizaka, 26, is less optimistic about the effect Pope Francis’ appearance in Japanese media will make on the population.

“Most non-Catholic people have a stereotype. ‘It’s not for us, I don’t care about such things.’ The news of the pope – they don’t care.”
Minori’s hopes for the pope’s speech are far more specific than her peers.

“There’s so many people who commit suicide in Japan,” she said. “I expect him to say he feels their hurt and he feels their pain.”

“He doesn’t have to say ‘There’s always God with you,’ because many [Japanese youth] don’t believe in God,” she continued. Minori wants the pope to meet young Japanese as they are, and speak personally to them.

“He went through so many difficult situations. He knows it hurts to lose a close friend.”

Towards the end of the interview session, Naoyo chimed in a final wish for the speech.

“With the pope coming, the time he’s visiting isn’t the only important part. The time after he leaves is important too. This can be a chance to gather people who cannot go to their church – a good chance to return them.”

“We see [the pope] like close family. He’s like a grandfather for us,” said Minori.

The pope will speak on Nov. 24 in Nagasaki, the traditional home of Japanese Christianity.

On Nov. 25 Pope Francis will end his tour at Tokyo Dome, where he will offer Mass, and give a speech to Christians from across the country.


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