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Reverence for Life
A Message for the Twenty-First Century
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan
Last year, the whole Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul
II renewed its faith and gave thanks to God for the mystery of Christ's
birth two thousand years ago. It was indeed a special year of great
joy for us all.
In addition, scientific advances have made life more comfortable and convenient. The search for material comfort and happiness never ends and in this pursuit the life sciences and medical technology have made great advances. However, there is a real danger that we will try to "play God."
This world does not belong solely to human beings, nor is full happiness to be found here. The world is God's, and the fulfillment of human efforts will be found only in relation to God.
We hope that our reflections will give courage and hope to our sisters and brothers throughout Japan. We pray that God's loving kindness will be poured out on all creation and especially on the people of Japan to whom we address this message.
Shimamoto Kaname, Archbishop of Nagasaki
1. We, the Catholic bishops of Japan,
address this message not only to our fellow Catholics, but to all
with whom we share this new century.
The 20th century was unprecedented in human history for the slaughter of millions. It was a century of hi-tech murder, culminating in the development of nuclear weapons. The Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jews was the most famous of several attempts at mass murder. The 20th century also saw two world wars. In the second of them, Japanese troops were responsible for suffering and slaughter throughout Asia, notably in Nanjing and Okinawa.
In the last century, warfare engulfed civilian populations to an unprecedented extent, something that shows no sign of abating in this new century.
It was a century in which human life was treated lightly, of no
more value than that of an insect. Totalitarianism, ideology, racism
and the insatiable lust for power on the part of leaders are hallmarks
of that century. In the face of all this and to help make our new
century different, we want to reaffirm our conviction that life
is more precious than anything else.
Placing our priority on economic development has led to putting our children through an examination hell for places in schools and has turned adults into cogs in an economic machine that allows no rest. As a result, family ties have weakened.
If we listen carefully to the voices from our schools and workplaces, we can hear the pain of those whose lives are being warped by our economic priorities. We judge people by their usefulness in achieving economic goals. As a result, the elderly, the handicapped and others who are not considered useful in the pursuit of profit are shunted out of the mainstream.
We are convinced that unless we change our values there is no meaningful
future for Japan. We must reaffirm the value of each and every person
and the sacredness of life.
Medical advances have made life more comfortable. Life spans have
increased as previously undreamed-off treatments have become common.
We admire and are grateful to the scientists who devote themselves
to this work. However, there are certain God-given principles and
boundaries, especially concerning life and death, that must not
be ignored or overstepped.
The responsibility for this situation is ours. By making economic
progress and transient abundance our goal, it is we who have put
the earth at such risk. If we do not change our selfish ways and
give priority to life itself, there can be no hope for the future.
When we stand before such a child, we put aside all other thoughts and are united in awe at the mystery before us. The naked child has nothing to do with social position or power. Before such a defenseless person, we all become gentler.
In addition, the parents and anyone else who sees a newborn child
realize that a child is a gift from God. This is obviously true
when the child is born as the fruit of deep love between a man and
woman, but it is also true no matter what the circumstances of its
birth. We know that each child has been given life by a Source that
transcends human power and understanding.
God loved and chose us before the creation of the world. (cf. Ephesians
Life is a work of God, a gift of God. This is the unwavering belief of the Catholic Church. There is an absolute basis to the grandeur of human life and we may not interfere in that grandeur, no matter who we are.
We also wish to stress the Biblical teaching that after creating humankind, "God blessed them" (Genesis 1:28). In this we see God's love toward humanity.
When someone close to us enters school, marries or starts a new
job, we bless them. To bless is to hope for the best for others
and to enter into their joy. At the same time, we pray that the
new possibilities of the situation will bear good fruit. When the
Bible tells us that God blessed the creation of human life, it teaches
us that God rejoiced in our creation and hopes that the possibilities
given us with life will be fulfilled.
"Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:30-31)
"It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18:14)
"Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ... Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness." (Matthew 6:25, 32-33)
Can there be any greater source of strength to a human being than
to know God rejoices in each human birth and hopes for our happiness?
No matter what sort of troubles we encounter, this knowledge is
a reliable source of hope and an encouragement to not despair.
Human life is the fruit of God's work, but it is realized through
the love of a man and a woman. It is here that we must warn of the
problems of irresponsible sex and intervention in life without consideration
of God's part in creation.
In the Bible, the human being to whom this suitable helper is given expresses his joy by saying, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). This is the joy of companionship, a joy that is eternalized by the bonds of marriage. As soon as the first human finds a "suitable helper," the Bible tells us, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24).
The union of these two people is threatened by our society's emphasis
upon efficiency, economic goals and egoism. Many tendencies in our
society tear at the unity of couples. To resist these tendencies
requires a strong commitment to that unity and to prayer. New life
born of the bond between a husband and wife becomes the starting
point for family life, life that is fulfilled in the love shared
among all the members of the family.
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death." (1 John 3:14)
To love means to meet another in the uniqueness of his or her being and to serve one another's happiness. To not love is to ignore the existence of others, thinking only of one's own desires and needs, the very definition of egotism. The phrase "whoever does not love abides in death" speaks of a death that not physical, but spiritual. It is the death that comes from being controlled by one's own self-centered desires.
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to death, but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
These words come from St. Paul's letter to the Church in Corinth. In that letter, he tells us that no matter how much education we have, no matter what kind of social successes we have, no matter how many noteworthy services we perform, if we do not have love they are all wasted. Without love, life is sterile.
Not only does the spirit of one without love wither, but that person's
connection to other people also collapses. There is nothing else
so important as love. Japanese society, which evaluates people on
the basis of their educational background, social position and achievements,
has lost vitality and joy because it has lost sight of love. The
regeneration of Japan's homes, schools and society as well as the
life of each person depends upon reigniting the fire of love. We
must foster the conviction that love is the highest value of all.
Instead of seeking an answer to the mystery of human existence, Japanese society has worked for "the food that perishes," mere economic goals. It should not surprise us, then, that we are experiencing so much disruption and unease. We have ignored that which would nourish our spirits in favor of this-worldly goals and find ourselves in a rut. Christ's words show us a way out of this dilemma.
"Work for the food that endures for eternal life." This
is a difficult command for us who are ruled by our selfish desires
and settle for immediate gratification. Christ fully understood
this difficulty and offered encouragement to his disciples. He told
the young man who asked what is necessary to have eternal life that
he must renounce his possessions, for one who does so receives a
hundredfold (cf. Matthew 19:16-30). Though it is difficult to break
our attachment to wealth and property, we must not let the difficulty
keep us from achieving salvation. Life is a challenge. No matter
how hard that challenge, meeting it is our glory. A person dies
when he or she lives only by desire. The regeneration of Japan and
we Japanese will occur only when we repent of our infatuation with
material abundance and give priority to our relationship with God.
Based on this, we see that God's declaration that humanity is his image on the newly-created earth means authority over the planet rests upon us. In other words, we are responsible for the order and harmony of the planet.
An honest look at history shows that we have not fulfilled that
responsibility. The Biblical stories of Adam, Eve and their children
show that the ruin of the world comes through human actions. Adam
and Eve turned away from God and followed their own desires by eating
the forbidden fruit. Therefore, they were exiled from the garden
to a land of where thorns grew thick. This story shows us that the
order and harmony of the world have been shattered by human actions.
The pollution of our environment calls into question the way in
which we live. We must remember that the earth was created as a
gentle home for life and that we must change the way we live in
order to protect it.
"The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything." (Lamentations 4:4)
"Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine. Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. Young men are compelled to grind, and boys stagger under loads of wood. The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music. The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning." (Lamentations 5:10-15)
These verses refer to the state of the people during their conquest by Babylon. However, the sad picture they paint is still true in such places as the Nazi concentration camps, in the Nanjing massacre, in Rwanda, in Kosovo and in East Timor.
Human life is full of pain. But that is the life Christ chose. For those of us who know the way of the cross that Christ walked, pain and death are not the whole story of human life.
"Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died." (1 Corinthians 15-20)
In Christ's death and resurrection, humanity has been shown definitively
that the absurdities of life do not lead to despair, but to new
life. No matter how terrible the conditions we face, no matter how
thick the darkness that surrounds us, no matter how threatened we
are with death, we can find a hope that overcomes all this.
This is how Paul sang out his joy over the victory of life over death in the resurrection of Christ. In order to join in this joy, we like Christ must love God and other people with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole strength.
15. We are born in a family and grow up in a family. The family enfolds, supports and develops life. It is a source of love and strength. In the family we learn the importance of our unique existence and are shown the value of living for those we love. Like a safe port that gives rest, comfort and hope to a tired sailor, the family provides a haven to us on the journey of life. And just as a sailor at sea takes comfort in knowing that there is a port awaiting him, knowing we have a family is a comfort to us even when we travel alone through the turmoil of life.
Therefore, when the family is troubled our lives are troubled, too. This is true whether we be elderly, newborn or in the prime of life. Holding the viewpoint that "crisis in the family is a crisis in life," we wish to shed some light on various subjects related to the family today.
I. Couples in crisis
Until recently, the divorce rate in our country was low compared
to that in many other countries. In 1947, there were 79,551 divorces
here. In 1998 the number reached 243,000.2 The number
of young people who approve of divorce has increased. Combined with
the tendency to delay marriage, have small families and even to
avoid marriage altogether, these changes are shaking the foundations
of family life. Formerly, the village community supported big families.
Now, however, children grow up in a nuclear family with few or no
brothers or sisters. For these young people, accepting a different
person and sharing life with him or her is difficult, and it is
among them that we see many cases of divorce.
Statistics for 19983 showing divorce among couples married more than twenty years doubling over the previous year indicate the fragility of even long marriages. With the workplace absorbing the husband's energy, he is no longer able to relate with his wife and children. In such a fatherless family, should we wonder if a woman loses affection for her husband and comes to consider his existence irrelevant? Petitions for divorce by middle-aged women increasingly contain statements like, "Staying together is meaningless," or "Even if it means financial hardship, I want to live as a free individual."
We see many new phenomena that contribute to the increase of divorce
today such as emotional and sexual immaturity, sexless marriages,
domestic violence and mutual dependency that prevents each of the
partners from being a responsible adult.
In this situation, marriages that used to hold together for the sake of the children begin to weaken.4 Many people think that it is worse for a child to live in a home where the parents do not get along. They think that so long as they find personal happiness and self-realization there is no problem. However, for this to happen it is essential that a couple cooperate to realize this sort of happiness. Patience and self-sacrifice are essential.
How a couple can live together while respecting individual differences
is the question we face.
Advances in medical technology have led to a separation between sex and reproduction and given women more control over conception. Gradually, people are coming to see children as products rather than gifts. This, too, is the result of society's self-centered values.
We must reconsider the fundamental meaning of marriage in terms
of humanity, the encounter between a man and a woman and children
as gifts of God.
"Many factors in the industrial world suffocate the joy of loving. People have too much and they want more. They are discontent.
"A family in Australia with six or seven children talked together and decided not to buy a new television. They wanted to enjoy each other more completely. They had enough of what they needed for each other in each other.
"Instead of buying the television, they gave the money to me to do something for the poor Aborigines there."5
Regard for one's life companion and children is more important than work and financial gain. When we feel the warm care of another, our hearts find peace. When we know we have such support from our family, we find the strength and hope we need to face the storms of life.
We need to work together at this. We cannot make excuses, claiming to be too busy to engage in this encounter. We must not grudge the time it takes. It is no exaggeration to say that such attitudes kill the family bond.
A couple that really cares for each other becomes a model for their children who will be responsible for building the loving families of the future.
We need to renew the sense of partnership among couples. We need
a deeper awareness that child care and "couple care" are
a shared responsibility of a husband and wife. Therefore we must
reexamine the common attitude that a man's responsibility is outside
the home while a woman's is within it. Pregnancy, childbirth, childcare
and the care of aged parents constitute a heavy burden that is placed
upon women. They need much more understanding and cooperation from
men. It is no longer unusual that women work outside the home and
it is natural that they desire to continue in their work. In such
cases, a husband must change his old idea of "man's work."
Childcare, housekeeping and other chores must be shared and mutual
understanding and cooperation are essential if the wife is to have
a fulfilling life.
If they give priority to their individual fulfillment, then it is natural to see the partner as a hindrance from which one should be free. They might even decide that divorce is a way to rescue their children from the disturbing influence of the parents' bad relationship. However, though it goes against the current "wisdom," we insist on the importance of maintaining the marriage. One reason for this insistence is that we are convinced that real human growth comes through loving self-sacrifice.
When we speak of love, we are not referring merely to the emotional level of likes and dislikes or personal pleasure. By love we mean striving for the happiness of another.
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful." (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
A person grows through adversity and distress. When we give up on a marriage, saying, "I am disillusioned," or "Our relationship was damaged," or "Staying together has no meaning any more," we are in fact straying from the way that leads to real human growth.
Some may rationalize their challenge to the possibility of promising unending love for another, but we know it is possible because love is a blessing from God. This is our faith. God blesses the vows a man and woman make before the altar: "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
Furthermore, those who have been united to Christ in baptism are united to his willingness to face the Cross through the power of love. He gives his followers that same strength.
We can live like Christ. It is not easy. But, believing that Christ walks with a couple in their joys and pains gives them the hope they need to move forward. Through the unique experiences of each person, Christ shows each one's special mission. For the couple, the blessings of baptism are lived out through their relationship and their shared mission.
"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves
with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear
with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also
must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds
everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ
rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one
body. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15)
God has definite reasons for bringing the two together. One is to continue the work of creation through the man and woman (cf. "Parents and Children," below). Another is to give human beings suitable lifetime helpers since we cannot survive in isolation. It is God who gives us our partner, and that partner is God's greatest gift to us.
To put it another way, my spouse is a special creation entrusted to me by God. The marriage vow is a trusting promise to God who asks each of the partners to take lifetime care of the other.
When we realize that the marriage bond is born of the overflowing love of God, we also realize that we cannot choose to break that bond when it encounters difficulties.
Before making the marriage vow, therefore, the man and woman must
prayerfully discern if their union is indeed God's will for them
and if they can offer themselves to each other for a lifetime.
Here we want to propose that in each area communities be developed
that couples can approach with confidence for consultation and help.
More than anywhere else, we sincerely want our local churches to
be such communities where people's joys and pains are met and shared
in love and friendship. The Church has a vocation to accept these
people and give them new light and hope.
I. Alienated sexuality
Ever since Japan entered its period of accelerated economic growth
many Japanese have sexually exploited poor women in the developing
countries of Asia.6 As a result, our entire nation's
view of the sexuality of women in Third World nations has become
abnormal. It is also from this period that discussion arose about
the forced use of "comfort women" by the Japanese military
during World War II. More than disputing whether or not it was a
national crime, we must face the fact that aggressive lust for power
permitted treating women like commodities to be used for sexual
pleasure. It is not just a matter of history; the question of a
culture that could allow such a thing is one we must face today.
In the face of the unquestioned acceptance of the separation of
sex from reproduction and a lack of a sense of responsibility toward
the children who are born we think it essential that we seriously
reflect upon whether our present situation contributes to human
life and fulfillment.
In biblical thought, however, there is neither separation of sex
from reproduction nor valuing sex solely as a means of reproduction;
sex is related to all aspects of human life. The naked openness
that hides nothing between a man and a woman in sex symbolizes the
depth of the mutual support and encouragement that human beings
give one another as they walk through life. Through the sharing
of sex, a man and a woman find comfort and joy for their tired hearts
and discover the vitality and hope they need to face tomorrow. In
sharing sex, a man and woman deepen their joy in loving and being
loved and find the courage to face whatever trials life brings.
Sexual incompatibility is one of the reasons given for the failure of marriages of middle-aged couples. Though we agree that there may be many reasons for this, we cannot ignore the fact that the structure of modern Japanese society makes communication between a man and a woman difficult. Fatigue in the man brought on by overwork, anxiety in the woman brought on by the man's lack of understanding regarding housework and child care, job postings of men away from home, etc. all make a couple's communication and sharing difficult. The environment in which couples live is not at all suitable soil for human relationships.
Perhaps many men have the illusion that the gaps in their marital
relationship, the lack of any sharing from the heart, can be filled
by sex. These men must understand that sex cannot replace the dialogue
and sharing that is lacking in their too-busy lives. Sex is not
a replacement for communication. Restoring the real meaning and
power of sex will require resisting the present reality of our society.
The first step toward achieving that is to restore heart-to-heart
When we approach birth as a work of God's creation, we have grave misgivings about our society's easy acceptance of a couple's selfish use of sex. We wish to point out that among those who accept a "contraceptive mentality"10 are those who erroneously place the self or human beings at the center of creation.
However, we do not favor the opposite extreme that would say, "the more children, the better," and thereby avoid making responsible choices.11 Recent popes have emphasized that for the sake of their children couples must prayerfully, lovingly and responsibly consider their situation regarding the number of children they already have, child care, education, finances and environmental factors.12
Since birth is connected intimately with the will of God and the
conscientious choice of the couple, governments and other public
bodies may not interfere in the matter.13
Of course, abortion and decisions based upon selfish thoughts of personal comfort go against this orientation and must be avoided.16
I. Parents and children facing crisis
This kind of attitude, which has had a deep impact upon modern consciousness, has extremely dangerous aspects. Already it has led to such selfish reasoning as "I want to prevent the birth of a handicapped child." As such a child grows up, he or she faces rejection in comments like "hideous" or "useless existence" that dismiss another's life.
Life comes from God. We are born and guided through life according
to God's will. Our unlooked-for joys and pains come from God. Our
task is to discern how to accept and live with them. We strongly
affirm that human life and personality must be viewed in relation
to God and eternal life.
Many parents who do not have a clear idea of what it is to be human fall into thinking that showering children with money is how one shows love. They spend money to send their children to good cram schools, diligently push to get them into prestigious schools, follow their children's commands regarding televisions and air conditioners in their private rooms and give them mobile phones, thinking they are valuing the child's freedom. This is not love.17
In this situation, mothers vie with one another in meeting social
standards of ability, chasing after early education programs and
comparing their children's intelligence, increasing the trend toward
isolation. It is no exaggeration to say that more than anyone those
who need help in raising children are women.
We sometimes hear comments about how the shift to small families has a good side in that it will lessen urban congestion, improve the housing situation and alleviate competition for places in schools. Some ask if, given the problem of the world population explosion, reducing the birth rate in developed countries might not be a way to reduce environmental damage.
In Japan's case, however, the shift to small families aggravates the problems associated with the aging of our population, lessens the rich diversity that children should encounter in society and causes a loss in vitality among children. The trend to having few children involves many problems that must not be easily disregarded.
"Selfish." "Out of control." "Can't take care of themselves." "Unable to express emotions." "No concentration or perseverance." "Always think it's others and society that are in the wrong." "No sense of perspective." These are frequently pointed out as characteristics of today's children. On the other hand, regarding parents we hear "Overprotective," "They spoil their kids," "They have no standards for raising children."
Overprotectiveness and excessive parental interference have produced parents and children who cannot function apart each other. Now we see the spectacle of people raised in such circumstances becoming parents without ever having grown up, and abandoning their own child-rearing responsibilities at a loss for how to go about them. We cannot ignore the minuses arising from the phenomenon of small families.
When people encounter a variety of ways of living, most of us are
stimulated and deepen our understanding of humanity. In raising
children, making a priority of economic abundance and the enjoyment
of a pleasant life gnaws away at their true happiness and neglects
Parents who become enemies
36. Recently there have been many cruel crimes perpetrated by children. Even though in each case there are unique motives for the crime, when we analyze them we find common elements. Among them are problems at school and their parents' attitudes.
When parents are imbued with the value society puts on educational
background and think that having a good academic record is the highest
human aspiration, this attitude makes a strong impression on their
children from an early age. For children who are under the illusion
that getting good grades is the most important thing in life it
is natural to feel lost at school and at home when they hit a wall
and feel they cannot make progress. In a sense, it is understandable
that a child unable to live up to parents' expectations and feeling
cornered directs its anger at the parents and various third parties.
To rescue such children what is needed more than anything else is
a courageous change of values on the part of parents.
Children are looking for emotional attachment. It is not enough to give them "things"; we must give our hearts. This is the basis of love. A child must realize in the depths of its heart that she or he is truly loved. It is important that an infant experience frequent physical contact, being held closely, embraced and petted. This gives the child the conviction that he or she is loved. As children grow, it is important to see things from their point of view, playing and enjoying conversation with them. We must not forget to make time for children. Parents who encounter each child as an individual, letting them see that just like the child adults feel joy and anger and are enthusiastic about life, make their relationship tender and show the way to be kind and thoughtful.
When this happens, a child finds being with his or her parents attractive,
something we need these days when many children live with pent-up
A negative self image is characteristic of Japanese children.20 Behind this is the fact that from an early age most Japanese children are thrown into the world of entrance exams and competition for places in school. Always being rated according to one's grades or what kindergarten or school one got into, children have no other standard by which to judge themselves.
If parents would sincerely tell their children, "School isn't
everything," "Even if you can't study or your grades are
bad, you are special," "Everybody has different talents
and you have your own," many children would be saved. Children
whose parents compare them with other children and try to control
them for self-centered reasons lose the joyous energy that comes
from knowing they are loved and it becomes hard for them to find
any meaning in life. If children are to find life-giving hope, parents
must first free themselves from the spell of academic achievement.
While recognizing that in a modern society that gives importance
to diverse values it is difficult to show children basic values,
we want to stress that parents must make more effort to instill
in their children the values and vision of humanity by which they
themselves live. In light of the fact that norms for virtue and
logic have become fuzzy, we believe that more than anything else
the most important work of parents is to teach children the firm
conviction that there is a transcendent being, that human life is
a journey toward God who hopes and works for the happiness of each
person throughout life, and that through love for one another we
are united with eternal life.
We want to challenge fathers to get more actively involved in child care. We also challenge neighborhoods to develop into communities that can nurture parents and children.
Even when a father and mother realize and actively share responsibility for child care, that is not enough. In order that couples need not limit the number of their children against their will, the social welfare system must be quickly improved to provide more nursery schools, improved child care, etc. Then parents can give birth to and raise children with peace of mind.
We in the Church also have a serious responsibility. There is a
pressing need for us to establish networks of cooperation and communication
regarding child care. Community building must be accepted as a basic
mission of the Church. Human relations in the Church are different
from those in companies or schools. Directing its efforts toward
the people of the neighboring community and going through various
trials with that community has deep meaning for it as an open Church.
However, there are also couples who are not blessed with children. We must be more aware of the deep pain of couples, especially of women, who bear this burden. Moreover, when her husband fails to understand her pain and refuses to do what might be done for the sake of conception, the wife is driven deeper into loneliness. In this situation it is essential that the couple talk and share with each other and cooperate in finding a solution. Regarding this, we wish to stress the importance of the husband's understanding and cooperation.
When we maintain that the birth of a human being is the will of God, we are not making a negative judgment upon those who are not so blessed. We are only recommending that everyone have a positive attitude toward the situation in which they find themselves. There are many families that have adopted children from other countries who have been abandoned or orphaned by war. Even without ties of blood, these families are tightly united by ties of love. There are also childless couples who devote their energy to serving their community. In any case, one way to deal with this situation is for couples to discuss what they can do to share their love with the community and unfortunate children.
I. A sense of unease
From the point of view of history, the past few decades are no more
than a moment. Before any preparations could be made, the confusion
caused by the aging of society has reached every element of Japanese
society all at once. We are presented with the challenge to deal
with and live in an aging society.
The fact of the matter is that when someone reaches a set age he
is removed from the labor market by an almost mechanical process,
is removed from the social flow and is forced to live in uncertain
financial conditions on an inadequate pension. When he leaves the
"front lines" the retiree is removed from involvement
in society and cultural stimulation and information. Furthermore,
as strength and memory gradually decline, whether he wants to or
not, he has to depend upon other people. In order to live old age
serenely and without negative feelings, he needs a new set of values
to replace the competitive values of society.
At the same time that Japan has become the country with the longest average life span in the world, there has been a serious decline in the birth rate. The ability of the family to provide for its elderly members has seriously weakened. Children in their 50's and 60's who take care of parents in their 80's and beyond are no longer rare. Because of the tendency to have small families the number of marriages between only children has increased, resulting in a single couple's having to care for four parents. The question of who in the family will take care of the parents is becoming a serious problem.
In the traditional patriarchal family the care of parents was entirely
entrusted to the women. The number of women who are overcome by
fatigue from bearing this great burden is not small and cases of
family collapse resulting from that are not rare either. It is also
clear that men who must fulfill their quota of work at their jobs
do not have the emotional leeway to care for their parents. Nor
can it be overlooked that in families where children are preparing
for school entrance exams the presence of an elderly person can
be considered an annoyance. There are also many elderly people who
have entered homes for the aged but then suffer loneliness because
they are neglected by their families.
The increase in local activities directed toward the elderly and
the creation of ways to involve them is good, however it is a disturbing
fact that some of this is driven by commercial interests that target
the elderly. Even if that is not always the case, it is sad that
these opportunities can only be taken advantage of by those who
are financially comfortable. The weakened ability of families to
handle the financial burdens is a problem beyond the scope of the
family. It is a problem for local and national government.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; ... a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Old age comes to all. There is no human being who can avoid it. Nonetheless, it thrusts new challenges upon us. First of all, the qualities of youth we once gloried in - vitality, strength, quick wits, agility, fertility, beauty - must all be given up bit by bit. No one likes that.
When you let go of the work that has been your occupation and preoccupation contacts with other people lessen, you need the help of others in all sorts of circumstances and you see the world you built being changed by your juniors. Eventually as you grow older, you become unable to eat without assistance and even need help going to the toilet. Looked at from the perspective of one's values as a youth, it is an absolutely humiliating situation to always see the faces of people you must rely upon.
Prerequisite to accepting such conditions positively as a gateway
on the way to completing the journey to God are definite values,
a certain view of life.
In the face of the modern propensity to build society based upon
information offered by the mass media, the experience of the elderly
offers a great service in conveying the culture, traditions and
view of life of a people. From this point of view, both at home
and in society we must respect the elderly, and develop a willingness
to listen to their voices.
Looked at from that point of view, liberation from the workplace is a blessing for the elderly. They have been given the freedom and time to reflect freely on the most important human issues of life and death.22
The ultimate goal of our lives is encounter with the eternal God. Old age and death are gateways through which we all must pass on the way to that definitive encounter. Old age is a special time to squarely face that gate. While accepting the various negative aspects of aging, we look beyond them to God who guides and with open arms warmly welcomes us.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. ... Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me" (Psalm 23:1, 4).
From the viewpoint of the eternal God, do not the elderly who appreciate
each day of life bring a richness to our modern society that values
worldly profit while neglecting humanity?
For the elderly, prayer is the indispensable activity of directing
one's life toward God. At the same time, their prayers for the happiness
of those they love and the whole world is a service by which they
break through the walls of loneliness and alienation and are connected
with God and all humankind.
Looking at the reality of how Japanese society has cared for the elderly until now, we wish to challenge men to recognize their serious responsibility in this regard so that this heavy burden will not fall solely upon women. The whole family, especially the husband and wife, must discuss how to cooperate and supplement each other's efforts.
In order that the family caring for old persons not be isolated, the need for neighborhood support must not be forgotten.
We often see how trying to bear the burden by themselves can lead to an unfortunate conclusion when a family's best efforts exhaust their energy. There are limits to what a family can do by itself in caring for the elderly. In order to provide a place where those caring for the elderly can find someone with whom to discuss their problems, offices must be set up in neighborhoods to provide the necessary assistance. In addition, family members and local support groups must make active use of such assistance ranging from daycare and short-stay care to residential group- and nursing homes.
However, the elderly person separated from the family for either a short or a long time by entering some special care facility must still feel independent and a real member of the family; therefore the family must make frequent opportunities to gather. The old person as well as the rest of the family are asked to show love, forgiveness and gratitude. It is that which leads each of them to the eternal life of God.
There was a report that a father whose child had Down's Syndrome
asked for and received a transfer to the United States in the late
1980's. There the child was neither stared or pointed at, nor refused
admission to swimming pools or gym classes. The father wrote, "They
accepted him as he is. Imagine how much this lightened our burdens."
After seven years, the family returned from America. Their impression
at that time was that Japan is uninformed about Down's Syndrome
and that there are not enough workplaces for people with the syndrome.
The father said that Japanese still tend to view the disabled coldly.
At present, we can see both advantages and disadvantages in prenatal diagnosis. Among the advantages are the possibility that early discovery of hereditary diseases can make preventive measures possible, the prediction and prevention of difficulties in delivery, treatment of hereditary problems in utero, and in the case of children whose congenital defects cannot be corrected, the parents can prepare themselves before the birth by securing the necessary social and spiritual support in advance. There are also, however, disadvantages. When it becomes known that someone is a carrier of some health problem, that person may face discrimination in insurance, employment and marriage. A decision to have an abortion because of a diagnosis of a defect in the child not only ignores the dignity of life, it also denies the disabled person's right to live. And, what advantage is there in knowing in advance about conditions for which there is as yet no prevention or cure? Doesn't it merely increase discrimination against the disabled?
At present, many pregnant women receive prenatal diagnosis and when some chromosomal abnormality is diagnosed most of them choose to abort the pregnancy.25
Though at first prenatal diagnosis was introduced as a way to examine the possibility that a child might be born with a serious disability, nowadays it has become accepted as a means to prevent the birth of disabled persons. In our society, it is essential that we realize the existence of the sort of severe discrimination against the disabled that we referred to above. There are people who even think that certain kinds of human beings should not live. This is a big influence on the way people see the disabled and becomes social pressure leading to the easy acceptance of abortion.
As we saw above, the progress of medical science that allows us
to know if a child has a possible genetic disability before it is
born is praiseworthy. However, we must sound a warning against it
when prenatal diagnosis becomes an easy way to choose abortion.
Such eugenic selection of which children can be born drives people's
consciousness of the disabled further into the background and encourages
Living with a handicap is certainly not easy. Those who do so have said such things to us as, "Why am I the only one like this? Sometimes I want to curse my luck, and even God," "What caused me to be like this? Is it my fate from a previous life? Is it someone's fault?" "Sometimes I want to throw it all away and die" When they speak so directly of the many hardships they endure, we are overwhelmed and cannot offer glib words of comfort
Why God, the loving creator, gave these persons such handicaps is
a divine mystery. Faced with such a great question, we cannot provide
answers that will fully satisfy the hearts of those who bear disabilities.
However, we can clearly affirm that human happiness and value and
the splendor of a truly human life are not linked to whether or
not one is disabled. Furthermore, when viewed in the light of faith,
we can proclaim that everything is in the loving hands of God.
Happiness is something we find for ourselves. We want to affirm that no matter how great the painful burdens of living with a disability, life is far greater. Life is a gift from God. It is a mistake to make negative value judgments like "Children born with a disability are unfortunate" or "They're pitiful" and to weigh the richness of a whole life simply in terms of a disability.
Life is very rich. It enfolds wonderful possibilities. The disabled
person, too, learns many things through encountering other people
and is liberated from confinement. Parents of children with disabilities
as well as those who encounter disabled persons in the community
find that their vision is broadened and liberated. In that liberating
journey, each person learns to love and finds his or her life enriched.
Fortunately, in recent times our society is asking how we can understand
handicaps and attitudes toward disability are changing greatly.
Though ignorance, prejudice and discrimination are still firmly
planted in society, generally speaking they are being gradually
overcome. Furthermore, as people approach disabled persons with
an attitude and posture of compassion and sympathy, they will come
to understand that "disability is uniqueness."26
When "the powerless" become actively involved in schools, workplaces and society, we all experience anew the splendor of human life. Our interpersonal encounters are enriched. In Japan today, poisoned by materialism, the emphasis on productivity and humanity-destroying fierce competition, the presence of disabled people is a treasure that shows the basic beauty of life.
The Vatican's message for the International Year for Disabled Persons says, "The quality of a society and a civilization are measured by the respect shown to the weakest of its members."28 We want to see Japan become a barrier-free society where everyone's individuality is respected without regard for disabilities and where everyone has free access to involvement in society and the Church.29
I. The Difficulty of Living
It is tragic when someone who has lived many years and has the possibility of a rich future decides to cut life short. There is no way any else can understand the deep suffering that drives a person to attempt suicide.
A middle-school student bullied by classmates, despairing of help
from cowardly teachers and unable to speak with his parents runs
away from home and ends his life. A young woman in her 20's, entangled
in a romantic problem and betrayed by the man she trusted, in a
fit of despair throws herself from the platform in front of an oncoming
train. An 18-year-old woman abused by a parent in childhood and
anxious about an eating disorder resulting from that trauma is rushed
to the hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. A middle-aged
man worn out by overwork and unable to meet the expectations of
his boss and coworkers decides to kill himself. An old person jumps
from the roof of an expensive nursing home, disappointed at the
lack of visits from children and grandchildren. There are many examples
of such motives.
How a human being completes a lifetime is a serious subject. There have been ages and cultures in which it was considered a duty to follow one's master in death. In our own country's history, generals defeated in battle would often commit suicide by "harakiri." Even today we see cases where a person stakes his life as a way to protest doubts about his innocence. Such situations are suicides, but they can be considered special cases that involve self-assertion based upon convictions. In addition, there are many cases when people who suffer from depression or addiction kill themselves. Doubts remain as to whether or not these people are really able to consider and make normal judgements about life and death and whether their suicide is clearly a matter of their own will. Suicide is an important subject upon which more careful research in every field is necessary both now and in the future.
Without forgetting these problems regarding suicide, we want to
convey our reflections on the option for death in the face of deep
Psychiatrists and counselors point out that though people who attempt suicide really want to die, they also really want someone to help them.
Tragedy ensues when these people are unable to find someone in their
community to help and understand them. Even when physically it appears
that because they live in a family and go to work or school they
are not isolated, they are in fact mentally isolated. The conviction
that there is no one to turn to and that they must bear their suffering
all alone is the root of their sickness.
No matter how great the pain, no matter how deep the darkness, we must not give up on life. Even when life seems to be one huge pain, it still contains infinite possibilities. It is said that in the darkness of suffering there are two doors. One opens easily and leads to a world of despair. The other, though hard to open, leads to hope. No matter how heavy it might be, we must struggle to open that door. It may seem like an agonizing struggle to accept death but when we pass through that darkness, we find the light of life awaits us. Just as Christ who was swallowed up by death was then wrapped in the brightness of the Resurrection, those who bravely face their suffering in the here and now will later say, "It is good that I did not die then." Such times are a necessary preparation for knowing the wonder of life in the depths of our hearts.
Life is a gift from God. God who gave us life certainly gives us the strength we need to live it. No matter how much the earth seems darkened by thick clouds, beyond those clouds shines the light of God who loves us eternally. Raising our gaze to that and finding hope is the blessing of faith that becomes strength.
"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4)
The Catholic Church has always disapproved of suicide because it
goes against the will of God who gives life.32 This is
based upon our faith that if we set our sights on God's eternal
love, then absolute despair is impossible.
Since the advent of modern times, the world has focused on economic activities. Human values that do not contribute to economic activities have not been appreciated. As a result, our society focused on economics severs the relations between people, gradually erodes an atmosphere where neighbors support one another, and now even endangers relationships within families. Human relations are supposed to be the most important thing in this world, yet we have built a society that cripples them. People who commit suicide are victims of that society.
In Japan, several activities are being carried on with the hope
of somehow preventing suicide. There are the police and independent
groups, especially citizens' groups like Life Line, that provide
telephone counseling. The medical profession has grappled for many
years with the problem of suicide prevention and an unknown number
of people have been saved, a source of courage and hope. We want
to build a society that draws near to suicidal people, sincerely
listening to their anguished cries, courageously looking into their
hearts and sympathizing with their pain and suffering. This is the
responsibility of each of us.
We understand this and recommend that people place their concerns
in the hands of God who knows all. Life does not end in this world,
and we are connected to God's world. This is our faith. After our
journey through this world, all of us are liberated from earthly
pains and burdens and are embraced in God's eternal life.
Sadly, the Church's position that "suicide is a mortal sin against God who is the Lord of life" has been cold, judgmental and discriminatory. We admit that and repent.
Therefore, we appeal to each and every member of the Church to offer
funeral Masses and prayers for the deceased who need God's mercy
and forgiveness and for the bereaved who need comfort and encouragement.
We are gladdened on the other hand to see that the hospice movement's
philosophy of providing care "so that one may live until death
as comfortably as possible by one's own will and choice" has
spread throughout Japan.34 Doctors who work in hospices
say that in the past euthanasia was chosen in many cases of terminal
illness when pain management and care were not well handled. On
the other hand, they say, patients who receive sufficient care in
a hospice are able to suppress the pain and meet death. We sincerely
hope to see hospices and hospice care, which have their origins
in Christian tradition and thought, spread throughout Japan. We
must work to ensure that everyone receives care that enables them
to die with true human dignity.
We are convinced that when we think about death we must begin by answering this sort of fundamental question. Thinking about euthanasia is not merely a question of about how one dies.
In Hori Tatsuo's novel Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Has Risen) the hero joins his fiancee in a sanatorium as she meets death and through death he gradually learns to really see things, replacing his everyday view of life with a new set of values. The writer describes seeing through death for the first time with the words, "Such a beautiful sky! If this were not such a cold, windy day we couldn't see it, could we?" As in this novel, the living learn much from the dying, and develop a new consciousness of one's own life and death.
Viewing the meaning of death this way, we think that for someone
to recklessly choose euthanasia is to not give proper respect to
Using this distinction as a base, direct action intended to cause death, intentional euthanasia, is "a serious violation of divine law"39 and cannot be accepted.40
Abolition of the death penalty and Japan
The only developed nations in which the death penalty endures are
the United States (where it has been abolished in some states) and
Japan.41 A recent opinion poll shows that about 80% of
Japanese accept the death penalty, perhaps influenced by a serious
of particularly atrocious crimes.42
We do not object to a criminal's being punished for a crime and having to make restitution. For a person who has committed a crime to receive an appropriate judgment of punishment and compensation in a fair court is natural. A criminal cannot escape responsibility for a crime. However, in a society based on a constitutional system the reasons given for approving of the death penalty are losing their persuasive power.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1989 adopted a treaty calling for the abolition of the death penalty. (Japan voted against the treaty and has still not ratified it.) Contrary to the idea that the death penalty continues to act as a deterrent to crime, there are many reports that show that the death penalty does not deter crime.43 We think we should respect these reports. In addition, some people think that when we consider the feelings of the bereaved, the death penalty is unavoidable. However, we doubt that the death of the assailant heals their pain.44 We think that another way must be thought of if the healing of the victims' hearts is the real aim. As for the argument that the death penalty prevents further crimes by the criminal, we want to emphasize the fact that today the facilities for incarcerating criminals are run in such a way as to make escape very difficult, and if an inmate does manage to escape, it is nearly impossible to live as a fugitive in a society run by law.
In a world where countries are governed by law, and in light of the dignity of every human life, we maintain that the rationale for the death penalty is disappearing.45
In cases of serious crimes society does not solve anything
by executing the guilty party. We must think more deeply about the
human rights of the victims and their families.
We should pay attention to the scene in Genesis of God's words upon
banishing Cain for the murder of his brother: "The Lord put
a mark on Cain so that no one who came upon him would kill him"
(Genesis 4:15). In these words we can see a denial of the death
penalty. The mark of Cain is a call to him to reflect upon his crime.
No matter how terrible their crimes, God's love gives everyone the
possibility to live a whole life. By opening the way to life, the
way to repentance is opened.
This is the road Christ walked when as he faced his crucifixion he ordered his disciples to give up the sword and later died praying for the pardon of those who nailed him to the cross. The attraction of Christ that draws and questions the hearts of people is not in revenge, but in his choice to give his life for the sake of forgiveness.
In a fortunate historical process many countries, especially in Europe, are following the path of abolition of capital punishment. Recently, whenever there is an opportunity, Pope John Paul II has called for the abolition of the death penalty.47 We believe that a nation truly matures when society forgives the criminal and accompanies him on the road to repentance.
An affirmation of scientific progress
The results of science and medical technology are at times like
the fruit in the garden provided for Adam and Eve. Such progress
seems like a charm that truly promises to bring us happiness, but
if we reach out for it blindly, we may find ourselves like Adam
and Eve, exiled from paradise. No matter what attractions it may
hold, when it is used without reference to values scientific progress
also carries the possibility of death and destruction for humankind.
The diagnosis of death
Moreover, death accompanies each of us as the shadow side of life itself. There is no one - even new-born, or however young or vigorous - who can claim to have nothing to do with death. As we see in situations like sudden disasters, traffic accidents or violent crimes, none of us can know when, where or how we must meet death. Death sits in wait, taking aim at the slightest crack in our life.
In the past, people understood death as the cessation of breath. The Japanese word for death (shi) originally comes from a phrase (shiinu) written with the characters "breath leaves." Until the recent advances in medical science, that was people's basic view of death. They checked to see if someone was breathing, made a diagnosis of death and prepared the funeral.
Nowadays, however, because of the advances in medical science the
diagnosis of death is left to doctors. Family and friends, as well
as the government, respect the diagnosis of doctors and accept a
verdict of death in terms of a doctor's declaration. That verdict
has been based upon three symptoms: respiratory failure, cardiac
arrest and dilation of the pupils. These bases for diagnosing death
have been accepted without question.
Even if the brain is dead, other organs continue to survive. The
success rate in organ transplants is high when live organs are used.
Therefore, in 1999 a law governing organ transplants was passed
that recognizes brain death as a basis for a diagnosis of death
in the case of people who have made a written commitment to be organ
Even when medical specialists give a diagnosis of brain death, it is natural that the close family and friends surrounding the patient cannot simply accept that verdict. So long as the patient's body feels warm and so long as the heart sustains a pulse, ties of affection remain and even when there is no response, the family and friends attempt to communicate as if the patient were alive.
For that reason, we strongly recommend that though a medical expert's
diagnosis of brain death be accepted as final, we also affirm that
nothing may be taken away from the respect and solicitude the survivors'
ties to the deceased deserve. Further, it is absolutely necessary
that each person make an early opportunity to discuss with family
his or her willingness or unwillingness to be an organ donor.
There are, indeed, people in Japan who say that those who take organs from a third party in order to restore their health and lengthen their life are merely clinging to life. This is not the position of the Catholic Church. It is a work of love when to the fullest extent possible we do all we can to offer encouragement and cooperation in supporting the one life each of us has been given by God. In fact, for more than 40 years the Catholic Church has recognized organ donation as a work of charity when its development and progress meet the following conditions: (1) the free-will offering by the donor; (2) confirmation of death; (3) consideration for the bereaved; (4) respect for the remains; (5) no buying or selling of corpses; (6) fairness in determining who will receive organs.49
Recent media reports on organ transplants use the English word "donor"
to describe those who offer their organs. The etymology of this
word associates it with "gift-giving." It contains the
sense that one is giving another something that is precious to oneself.
Offering one's organs for transplant to someone in need is indeed
a precious gift of a part of the life we have received from God.
The Catholic Church has consistently affirmed this as a work of
We wish to remind all those involved in organ transplants of a view of humanity that says life on the merely biological level does not have ultimate value for the human being, but is directed toward eternal life. Life is given by God and is directed toward communion with the eternal God. Death is nothing more than a passage from life in this world to eternal life. Life and death are both in the hands of God, led by God. Therefore, even if an organ transplant has given me a longer life, I should not view it as something I have purchased for myself at high cost. Rather, I should gratefully accept a transplant as the generosity of the donor and a gift from God and hear in them God's call to live more dedicated to eternal life.
82. When we think about the human embryo, that is, the early condition of pregnancy beginning with the fertilized egg, we must confirm the next point as a fundamental premise. The question arises of when one thinks human life begins. We want to take the considered position that rather than attempting to define when life begins, we declare our position that life must be protected from its very beginning.50
Holding to this understanding, we must think about recent progress
in human embryonic research and the technology of cloning that comes
1. It opposes reproductive cloning because human beings exist as ends and may not be treated as means. Human beings have rights that are not programmable through heredity and each human being has the right to be recognized as a hereditarily unique individual.
2. The use of non-reproductive cloning (for example, for the sake
of making structures or organs) requires delicate judgements of
each technology. Standards for handling human embryos are the basic
problem. When the intention is to produce the birth of an individual
by other than normal means we cannot avoid the problem of when the
life of the new individual begins. Since the embryo is already a
human being, it may not be used for research.
In response to the 1997 UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, the French Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter, "Development in Genetics and Human Dignity." They said that though gene therapy is used to save patients, we do not know the full results of it. It is desirable that this research continue with full respect given to the subjects of these experiments without going too far into reproductive cloning, the introduction of germ cells or embryonic cells into adult cells. They further said that out of consideration for future generations we should refrain from all research involving such genetic manipulation.52
Gene therapy is being used at present in the treatment of diseases in which specific genes do not function properly and in cases of acquired diseases for which there is no other therapy. In the former cases, positive results have been reported. However, in the latter cases such as cancer and AIDS, research has only just begun. Therefore, no cures have been established yet and there have even been cases where research on human gene therapy has been stopped.53 While we have great hopes for this technology in the future, we must carefully monitor its development.
The earth was born 4.6 million years ago. At the beginning of the
15th century, the human population of the planet was approximately
one billion. By the beginning of the 20th century it was some 1.6
billion. As we enter the 21st century, the world population is some
6.1 billion and is expected to exceed 10 billion by mid-century.
Predicting the future is difficult, but in the 21st century three
things seem certain: population growth, increased energy consumption
and deepening environmental problems.
"It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once
throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays,
wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only
silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh. ... The apple trees
were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so
there was no pollination and there would be no fruit."54
In 1972, the Club of Rome published its report, The Limits of Growth, warning of overpopulation, economic expansion, resource depletion, food shortages, and environmental pollution. The report warned that under present conditions the exhaustion of resources and environmental pollution caused by population growth would impose limits on human development.
Today these prophecies leave a heavy weight on our hearts. Once lost, it is impossible to return nature's pristine state. Between 1975 and 2000, some 40,000 different kinds of creatures were driven to extinction each year. Restoring an extinct species is, to all intents and purposes, impossible.
In the latter half of the 20th century, mechanization and the growth
of the automotive society in developed countries led to mass production,
large-scale consumption, large-scale disposal, and large-scale discharge
of industrial wastes as individual engaged in extravagantly conspicuous
consumption. This has resulted in the over-production of carbon
dioxide (CO2) which is raising the earth's temperature. In addition,
chemical pollutants such as dioxin and environmental endocrine disruptors
are threatening not only humanity, but all life on earth.
The consumption of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal produces "greenhouse gases" such as CO2 that raise the temperature of the planet. It is projected that during the 21st century the average temperature will rise 2o C. It is assumed that this will result in a rise of about 50cm in the sea level. This rise in sea levels will change rainfall amounts and weather patterns and have a big influence on plant and animal life. Abnormal weather conditions will produce famine and environmental refugees.
Sulfuric oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx) discharged by factories, cars etc. undergo chemical changes in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric acid and nitric acid that then falls to the earth as acid rain. The death of fish in Northern European lakes and rivers was observed in the 1950's and today more than half of Germany's forests have been harmed by acid rain. Crops have been damaged in China, and acid rain has been observed as well in America, Canada and Japan. Pollutants have been observed to ride air currents for as much as 2,000km, so it is feared that the effects of acid rain can be worldwide.
Ozone in the lower level of the stratosphere is destroyed by chlorofluorocarbons and other such gases. This allows an increase in the amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation that reaches the planet's surface. The fear is that this will cause health problems like cancer, interfere with photosynthesis in plants and hinder the growth of plankton.
Industrial pollution is a serious problem in developing countries. While that is their responsibility, it is also the responsibility of the developed countries that build factories in those places.
The problem of pollution arose in Japan in the 1960's. Situations of air pollution in Yokkaichi and Kawasaki, and water pollution in Minamata due to industrial drainage provoked various countermeasures that have improved the situation. However, problems of air pollution, industrial drainage and heavy metal pollution are appearing in the developing countries.
This is not a case of people in the developed nations criticizing development in other places. It is important, though, that we share our experience by transferring technology, personnel and funds to assist developing nations.
Moreover, the overlogging of tropical hardwoods, the depletion of
seafood resources due to marine pollution, the disposal of harmful
wastes in the sea and desertification all present serious challenges
to the existence of every creature on earth. In particular, it is
said that more than half of earth's species live in the tropical
forests, but that by 2020 between 50,000 and 1,500,000 of them are
expected to be extinct.
Each of us must correct our pride and comprehend the God-given balance of nature. We must recognize what it is that sustains us and know our limits. We need nature in order to live, to eat and to love.
In 1990, Pope John Paul II, saying that God expects humanity to
care for the earth, affirmed "that there is an order in the
universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed
with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility
to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations.
I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue."55
We, too, should stop such wasteful practices as excessive air conditioning and excessive packaging. When we buy a product, we should ask ourselves if it is really necessary, if it is made from recycled materials and how much electrical power it consumes. Each one of us should do what we can to reduce the burden on the environment. The activities of NGOs (non-government organizations) that work for the environment are increasingly important.
God cares even for the flowers of the field, dressing each with beauty and loving it. To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God's love and hope. When we become aware of the abundant richness of other creatures' existence, our eyes are opened to an intuitive sense of God's own existence. The human task is not to destroy the environment, but to cooperate with God in creating it. It is important that we continue to hope as we correct problems and engage in a calm dialogue in search of solutions.
A starting point
We knew from the start that there were other and perhaps more crucial topics to deal with. However, we decided that even with its imperfections we should send a message to the world as it enters a new century, a new millennium. We are convinced that our vocation as bishops requires us to issue a call for people to understand a human posture toward life based on the light of God.
In 1971, Pope Paul VI made the following declaration regarding social problems. "In the face of such widely varying situations, it is not our ambition or mission to utter a unified message or offer a solution with universal validity. Christian communities must objectively analyze the situation proper to their own country to shed on it the light of the Gospel and draw principles of reflection, norms of judgement and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church. ... With the help of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the bishops, and in dialogue with other Christians and men of good will, Christian communities must discern what are the changes to be promoted."56
We have the same hope today that Pope Paul had then. We hope that
those of you who read this message will not take it to be the final
word of the Church on these matters. Rather, we hope you discuss
it and use it as a starting point in building a society that values
The source and support of this message is indeed Jesus Christ. In short, our faith is grounded in the life of Christ who loved God, loved people, was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead to save our lives from edge of danger and lead us to everlasting life. Christ looks after and suffers with those who are abused and suffer in our society. Following his example, we too look with deep affection upon those who suffer and hope that by our efforts our society will improve.
This message might not have spread sufficient light on solutions
to the complex problems people face. We hope, however, that you
will understand our desire to present Christ as truly "the
way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). We are convinced
that even in the midst of suffering Christ who lived the loving
will of God will lead humanity in the way of joy.
This message is different from other documents we have issued that stressed the teachings of the Church. We intentionally avoided categorical statements like, "The Church teaches that..." This is the reason we chose to speak in the form of a "message" to society. We hope that you will listen to our appeal, heed your conscience and take responsibility for how you live your life.
We ask our fellow Catholics to deepen their understanding of the
ethics and teachings of the Church in the light of this message
and to take responsibility for making decisions regarding their
own lives. Furthermore, we ask all pastors to understand the spirit
of this message and support and encourage believers in putting Church
doctrine into practice.
We do not intend to condone sin, rather we want to be a good friend to those who in the here and now complexities of life have lost the light and are discouraged. We sincerely want to help them find renewal in God's blessings and start anew.
Love and forgiveness are light and power. True humanity shines forth when, embraced by love, it experiences comforting forgiveness in the midst of the darkness of sin. Love and forgiveness are indispensable for a sinner to find salvation.
We will be happy if this message helps build a society in which
those who are discouraged by their weakness and those who live in
lonely darkness find warm understanding, comfort and encouragement.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan
January 1, 2001
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
1. In the original text the phrase is eyzer kinegdo, in which eyzer means someone who gives support and aid. It is someone with resources, ability, talent and experience who puts them at the service of others. This includes parents, teachers, doctors, those who care for the elderly, etc. As technology and specialization increase, this kind of mutual assistance is more necessary than ever before.