TOKYO (CNS) — Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, Japan, said Catholics in the archdiocese recognize “with grief, remorse and a deep sense of crisis” that the church is experiencing a slow contraction and a precipitous decline in membership.
The assessment was published March 17 in a document from the archbishop outlining the conclusions of the first-ever archdiocesan synod in 2014.
The document examines a variety of challenges facing the archdiocese and proposes steps to overcome what Archbishop Takami called the “withering and enervation” of the church, reported the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com.
Known as the home of “hidden Christians” who secretly practiced their faith despite centuries of persecution, the lack of priests and no access to the Bible for study and prayer, the Nagasaki Catholic Church now must overcome apathy in order to build its future.
During the past 30 years, Nagasaki’s Catholic population has dropped from 75,000 to 62,000. Of the 267 marriages performed in the archdiocese in 2013, only 44 were for Catholics.
“In a majority of households, only one member of the family is Catholic,” said Father Mamoru Yamawaki, president of the synod’s core committee. “The discussion has shifted from how to keep the faith as a family to how people can live their faith as individuals.”
The declining practice of the faith has adversely affected families. “Children attending a parent’s funeral often cannot join in the prayers and do not even know how to participate in Mass; they are bewildered and upset,” the document said.
A key step, the synod maintained, is “care for those who have left the church, or who have been pushed away from it.”
“The words and actions of the bishops, priests, and lay leaders” contributes directly to people feeling unwelcome in the Catholic community, the synod concluded.
Father Yamawaki said the church’s lack of a pastoral response to families in need must change.
“The number of divorces has risen. Poverty has increased. There are many reasons the faithful have drifted from the church. And yet some in the church have looked only with eyes of judgment. Those eyes are no better than the eyes of the elder brother of the prodigal son,” he said.
The synod offered three key recommendations to counteract the trend the Catholic Church faces: the spiritual nurture of priests, religious, and laypeople, and that all embrace an inner conversion; a renewed emphasis on faith education and prayer throughout the archdiocese, coinciding with the formation of catechists and priestly and religious vocations; and the collective determination as a faith community to tend to neighbors in society who are suffering.
Father Yamawaki said one sister who knew of the synod’s recommendations prior to publication confronted him, asking, “Are you committed to this?”
“I sensed from her question that, if we are committed, she is determined to join us in our resolve. Laymen and women, too, feel that something must be done for those who have become separated from the church. It is now up to church leaders to show in concrete ways how committed we are to this task,” he said.
The synod convened in four separate meetings throughout 2014, giving participants the opportunity to discuss new directions for the archdiocese in light of the difficulties it faces. A final draft of the report was submitted to Archbishop Takami in November, who gave it his formal approval earlier this year.
The final promulgation of the document March 17 came at Oura Church in Nagasaki during a Mass commemorating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the hidden Christians of Japan.