At the service of the Church, in the diocese of Fukuoka.
It’s been almost fifty years ago that I was sent in service to the Church, in the diocese of Fukuoka. A diocese located on the big island located to the south of Japan, Kyushu. More precisely, I lived and worked in the northern region of the diocese in the district called « North-Kyushu ».
A quick look over the last fifty years incites me to feel gratitude… and humility !
An infinite gratitude towards those who welcomed me, accepted and supported me, and with whom I had the joy and honor of collaborating with.
Those who made me into a man, and the priest I’ve tried to be, with them and for them, and, I hope, in a small way, the witness of Jesus Christ I’ve always dreamed of becoming.
This constant and warm support, this generous collaboration have been for me a model and a privilege.
Yet, let’s not get carried away !
When I look at the diocese that I serve, the image that comes to my mind is that of a steadily advancing ship. Everyday is the same, the everyday habits become a routine.
The diocese has never known a « golden age ». Nevertheless, the impetus provided by the Vatican II Council, then by the Synod of the Japanese Church in 1987 (NICE 1) has slowly disappeared. A feeling of boredom, powerlessness, and even disarray can be felt. The fact that there are still some faithful people at church can create an illusion, but everyone can see that the absence of entire generations is threatening the church’s future.
A new impetus, which will bring something new, is now necessary. New in the sense of « situated in a renewed manner, in and from the Gospel ». New in the sense of a new attention and presence of the Spirit in society and in the Church.
As a « foreign body » welcomed into the diocese, I will be careful not to appear as a « giver of lessons » – in whose name, anyway ? Yet, as a host and collaborator of the Church, I cannot hide my worries, which bother me at certain hours.
Are the necessary evolutions not threatened by two heavy tendancies ?
The first tendancy is clericalism, which has become invading, and even suffocating. Surely, this is nothing new. As always, and everywhere, clericalism has always and still is a chronic sickness of our Chruch.
But in Japan ! For over 200 years, in a total absence of priests, the laymen « kept the flame burning » all by themselves. Of course, this is not the « ideal situation », but can we not learn from this page of History, and find something in it which will enrich the life of the Church today ? Can the Church not overcome the coming challenges, even as the minority it has always been ? Can it not promote strongly a collaboration between the laymen and the priests ?
As for the second heavy tendancy, it is the different views of the Church and its vocation which do not meet and communicate together as a unity. Simply using the same vocabulary does not mean that everyone understands one another, nor that everyone hears the same thing. Of course, this problem is not new, but it impedes the announcement of the Gospel and the Church’s life.
Can we not wish – as priests – that our exchanges be more thorough and fraternel concerning what makes us live ?
My Life in service of this Church
During forty-seven years (1970-2017).
I worked at the service of christian communities. It is a choice I made early on. According to what I learned of Japan and japanese society, I considered that working with the laymen and the christian communities was the appropriate manner to announce the Gospel and bear witness to Jesus Christ in society.
I conceived my life and work as that of a « waker ». Allowing laymen to be aware of their vocation as witnesses of the Gospel and to help them practice this vocation has been the goal of my work in the diocese. This action, experienced in the journey of many catechumens, was for many years a source of encounters which supported me in my faith. It was a source of joy that made my life a privileged life. May the Lord be pleased with me.
Having always considered myself as not indispensable, and – even less so – as not immortal, at the age of 75 I offered my resignation to the bishop all the while pointing out that if I could still render service to the diocese, I wished to do so under another form than parish work.
The bishop having accepted this request, I now reside, since April of 2017, at the local MEP house, located at the very heart of the district in which I had always worked. It is therefore an ideal location. I view my life and my work less as that of a « waker » and more as that of a « watchman ». A situation which is more fragile and vulnerable, more evangelical !
Availability, welcome, service are more than ever the conditions of my daily life, free from the frenzy of the past years. That said, interventions, Bible sessions, retreats, service to my japanese brothers are more than enough to occupy my free time. I devote it as much as possible to building or rebuilding « bridges » ; between the Gospel and those who have never heard of it. Between those whose solitude has become unbearable and the « community of men » ; between the Church and those who are far from it.
In brief, a life always as exciting and full of Hope, in the Joy of the Gospel.
Father Louis Bellion, MEP