Posted by Matthew Ireton, a parishioner at the English-language parish in Tokyo
It was early in the morning when I woke to the sound of people preparing to go upstairs for the 6:30 a.m. mass.
Father Takahashi, who is a priest from Oita Prefecture, decided say Mass for Catholics at the Caritas base in Shiogama during his stay as a volunteer. I got up, went to the bathroom to put my contact lens on, and then headed to a room that allowed for 7-8 people after setting an altar for a bible, crucifix, chalice and a ciborium.
As Father Takahashi spoke during the homily about volunteering, I was wondering what was going through everyone’s minds. This was my first day of actual volunteering, having arrived yesterday, and while others probably reflected on their previous volunteering activities, I did not know what to think or expect.
The number of volunteers who have come through the Sendai Diocese Support Center has topped 715.
But now schools have resumed classes (the school year in Japan runs from April to March). The April 29-May 8 Golden Week holiday when a combination of holidays, weekends and a day or two of vacation time gave the whole country a week off is over. People are back at school and work.
One volunteer told me the company he had worked for recently closed down, so he was free to join the effort at any time. He asked to be accepted as a post-Golden Week volunteer, “I thought I’d come after Golden Week when volunteers might be scarce,” he said.
According to Fr. Daisuke Narui, executive director of Caritas, the number of people offering to join the relief effort is indeed dropping.
What can be done to carry on the work?
A volunteer distributing hot water at an evacuation center in Ishinomaki thought that some tasks like water distribution might be suitable for retirees. However, older people may find the dormitory-style living of volunteers and bedding down in sleeping bags to be a bit more than they can handle, though that, in fact, is daily life now for evacuees in school gymnasiums and other places.
The nature of the work may have to shift, at least till the next school vacation period, with less emphasis upon heavy manual labor even though that remains necessary. The mayor of Kamaishi has said that cleaning up that city will take at least three years.
Caritas already sponsors “Heart Care” counselors, specialists who serve survivors of the traumatic earthquake and tsunami.
Perhaps some beneficiaries of the volunteers’ service might be happy to break the tedium of evacuation center life and become agents as well as recipients of the relief efforts.
In any case, it looks as if the amount and the nature of relief work the Catholic Church can sponsor may have to change in the next month or two, at least until universities’ summer holiday.
Posted by William Grimm
Kamaishi is no stranger to tsunami.
A major one in 1896 destroyed the city and washed away a 29-year-old French priest who was visiting parishioners there.
To protect itself from tsunami, the city built the world’s deepest breakwater, completed in March 2009. In March 2011, it showed, just as the Titanic once did, that when humans decide they can match the power of the sea, they are doomed to failure.
Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.
— Wilfred Owen, The Unreturning
The earthquake and tsunami were two months ago today.
This morning as I was eating breakfast with the volunteers at Kamaishi, one of them, a local woman, sat across the table from me and asked if I could answer a question for her.
“Why have the media forgotten about us?” She went on to say that all the coverage seems to focus on the problems at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, even though the disaster is still a present reality in the rest of the area.
I said it was the weakness of the media that it has a short attention span. The Japan quake eclipsed the Haiti quake, the revolt in the Arab world eclipsed the Japan quake, the royal wedding in London eclipsed the Arabs and Osama bin Laden eclipsed Kate Middleton. News becomes history very quickly.
That’s the reason the Sendai Diocese Support Center and Caritas Japan have me coming up from Tokyo to report. Their hope and mine is that by continuing to put the situation before an international audience, encouragement and support won’t dry up. Fortunately, according to last week’s figures, ucanews.com is now the second-largest Catholic news source on the web. So, at least among Catholics the story is being told.