Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sophia University gets a new President!

Prof. Tadashi Takizawa
This evening the Sophia University Presidential election results were announced, and the winner is ... Professor Tadashi Takizawa of Law Department. Universities in Japan follow different norms to elect or appoint a President. At Sophia, since the Student Revolt of the late 1960's, they have the custom of electing a President. Every tenured or quasi-tenured 'shokutaku' member of Sophia, including non-teaching employees, is eligible to vote. Usually three candidates are presented after various preliminary procedures and vetting, and the voters decide which one of the three they'd like to have as President. Although Sophia is a Jesuit University, the President doesn't have to be a Jesuit; in fact, s/he doesn't even have to be a Catholic or a Christian. The highly esteemed and appreciated current President Yoshiaki Ishizawa, for instance, is not a Christian.

Professor Takizawa is a graduate of the prestigious Todai 'Tokyo University' getting his doctorate in Law and Politics in 1976. He came to Sophia as a Professor in 1984, and has held several important positions including the Dean of the Faculty of Law. He currently serves as the Chief Librarian of Sophia. He has also taught part-time in many other universities, and has spent a couple of months at the Catholic University of Leuven as a visiting Professor.

Prof. Yoshiaki Ishizawa
Professor Takizawa succeeds Professor Ishizawa, who did a remarkable job as the President serving for two terms. Professor Ishizawa brought many honors to Sophia especially by his pioneering research and discoveries in Cambodia, where Sophia University's presence can be seen in Angkor Wat and several other voluntary activities.

Photo Credits: (c) Sophia University, Tokyo

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesuit Robert Spitzer rebuts Atheism

Just today I received a copy of Robert Spizer's New Proofs for the Existence of God - Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, sent by a friend in USA. Obviously, I haven't read it. I tried to find out about it, and it looks like a heavy, I mean difficult, book with lots of scientific jargon.

One reason I was interested in "New Proofs" was that there seem to be extremely few books from God-affirming scientists rebutting the arguments of God-denying scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Stephen Hawking. There are, surely, many apologetic books from so-called believers, who simply repeat what they were taught, without much critical or scientific reflection. Even in debates, often the believers come across as 'uninformed' or 'naive' with little awareness of contemporary science and are easily talked down to by their opponents. The only book of a God-affirming scientist that made waves internationally--prior to Spitzer's--was Francis Collins' Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Spitzer is not a professional scientist like Collins; but he is a Doctor of Philosophy, and hearing him talk, one cannot but conclude he does have quite a bit of scientific knowledge. Perhaps his doctoral studies were in Philosophy of Science, combining Philosophy and Science. Anyway you can judge for yourself after watching, for example, this fiery and eloquent presentation of Spitzer:

Here is another video clip of Spitzer speaking on "The curious Metaphysics of Dr. Stephen Hawking."

Hearing him talk and having read about 60 pages of his book, I believe Spitzer's rebuttal of atheistic scientists boils down to the age-old maxim, "Nothing can come out of nothing!" The 'something' of a scientifically established Big Bang, initially formulated by the Catholic Priest-Scientist Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, cannot simply come out of nothing--going against all sicentific principles. Spitzer quotes numerous scientists, talks their language, and presents their formulae and theories to show that Science simply has no other valid hypothesis except God to explain the origin of the universe at Big Bang.


As we know, even among atheistic scientists, the conscientious ones do not say, "There is no God," or "We can prove there is no God," but only say, "God is unnecessary," or "We don't need God to explain any of the observable phenomena." For example, when buses were run in Spain and England procaiming atheism, the awkwardly worded poster read: "There's probably no God! Now stop worrying and enjoy your life!" [Not clear what the significance of the poster is when most surveys suggest that people who believe are the ones who enjoy life and have fewer worries!]


Spitzer appeared a couple of weeks ago together with Stephen Hawking and Deepak Chopra on Larry King Live to discuss the book of Stephen Hawking, which the media proclaimed as Hawking's attack on God. There are three video segments of this discussion: the first presents the curt answers of Hawking to Larry King's questions, and the other two the responses of Spitzer et al. Here is the second segment in which Spitzer plays a major role:

Click here to watch the First segment.
Click here to watch the Third / Final segment.

Whatever the merits of Spitzer's book, it is great to see a book that talks science and debates with scientists on an even plane. I was impressed by the number of scientists that he presents as supporters of a God-hypothesis. It is up to atheistic scientists to rebut Spitzer's arguments! You can read more about Spitzer's work at his site and even order a copy of his book New Proofs for the Existence of God - Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sophia University Ranked First!

Sophia University A recent article in the Nikkei Career Magazine Special Edition (日経特別編集キャリアマガジン, June 10, 2010) ranks Sophia University first among the 480 Japanese universities surveyed for "Developing students' skills most needed for contemporary employment." The survey, limited to only four-year universities--thus excluding professional schools, junior colleges, etc.--was based on the responses of 4,684 students who were about to embark on job hunting.

The 25 survey questions dealt with four significant areas concerning (1) Personal feeling towards the university (大学愛 'Love for the university'), (2) Social relationships (交友関係 'friendships'), (3) Extracurricular Activities (課外活動), and (4) Satisfaction with academic work (学業 'Academic work'). Why these four topics? The surveyors say that a major difference between students who get employment and those who don't is their social skills or their ability to fit smoothly into society. The four major areas explored are indicators of students' social skills, and the university that contributes to the development of these skills is the most successful in educating the future workforce of Japan. The questions were of Multiple Choice format with 2, 3, 4, or 5 options.

According to the survey, the scores that Sophia obtained were as follows:
(1) Feeling towards the university: 234
(2) Social Relationships ... ... .: 614
(3) Extracurricular Activities.. .: 506
(4) Academic Satisfaction ... .. .: 478
Total Score:... .. .: 1832

For comparison, here are the scores of second-ranked and third-ranked universities (in the same order):
2nd-ranked university: 290, 615, 455, 445, 1805
3rd-ranked university: 232, 595, 455, 491, 1773

It is noteworthy that Sophia's impressive scores were mainly in "Academic Satisfaction" and "Extra-curricular Activities"--both hallmarks of a Jesuit University. Sophia usually demands much from students (rigorous attendance, lots of homework, etc.), and Sophia students are remarkably cooperative and committed to academic excellence. Many of Sophia's "Extracurricular Activities" are humanitarian activities, inspired by the traditional Christian concern to be socially responsible and to do something for the socially downtrodden. Worth mentioning are voluntary organizations such as Meguko that help the poor and STP 'Summer Teaching Program' that go out to teach skills to high-school students both in Japan and overseas.

Of course, all such surveys must be taken with a pinch of salt, and I don't think there is any reason for Sophians to boast or be complacent. Probably most Sophians are themselves a bit surprised at the first rank, though the report is sure to be a moral boost to all Sophians, especially the students.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jesuit Mystic William Johnston Passes Away

William Johnston, S.J.
This morning (Oct. 12, 2010) I received the news that Fr. William Johnston, S.J., author, translator, mystical theologian, and sought-after preacher, passed away at Loyola House, where he had been cared for. Bill, as we used to call him, had been sick for nearly two years, since the time he had a stroke, towards the end of the annual retreat he was making at the Kamishakujii Jesuit Residence. Luckily, someone found him and took him to a hospital, where he had an urgent operation and his life was saved. I wrote 'Luckily,' but perhaps he himself might have said, 'Unluckily,' for he loathed being bed-ridden and unable to speak. Although his life was spared, he could not speak for nearly two years--though some visitors felt he understood what was said and showed some signs of recognition.

Bill was much senior to me, and although we had met frequently, we never had close personal exchanges until the late 1990s, when a Toshiba Satellite brought us together. He had just returned from the United States, where someone had very strongly urged him to buy a computer and use it for writing. So he arrived in Tokyo, proudly owning a Toshiba laptop, and asked several people to help him. Almost everyone gave up, and then Bill came to me and said, "You are going to help me write my next book in a computer. Everything is set, for I got the computer with the help of an expert. All you have to do is to help me start." So I went to his room and examined the computer, and immediately realized why nobody was able to help him.

The computer was quite simply a 'lemon': (1) It was an old model, with a very small amount of RAM memory, and basically a DOS machine into which some old version of Windows had been installed. (2) It was a U.S. model, entirely in English. (3) It had no CD or DVD drive, either internal or external. (4) It had absolutely no application software. And (5) it had no printer. Bill couldn't even understand why nobody would teach him to write his next book in this wonderful 'new' machine. The problems, however, were nearly insurmountable: In Japan, especially in the 1990s, there was very little support for non-Japanese Computers, and so nobody, not even Toshiba, was willing to solve problems of a computer bought in USA. As the computer had no CD drive, there was no way to install any software programs, most of which were then available only on CD-ROMs. Moreover, in Japan only Japanese or bilingual software was available, but his computer won't take anything other than English! Most of the printers sold in Japan weren't suitable for an English PC either, and there were other problems related to cables, connectors, and so on. It took me nearly two weeks to make the 'lemon' somewhat useful as I managed to install a DOS version of Word Perfect 5.1 (English) and find a printer that could be connected to his Toshiba.

Then I started instructing Bill on how to use the PC, and he was one of the most diligent and humble students. Following my instructions, he always wrote down the basic steps I taught him and never tried to learn more than he could digest. He was neither curious nor eager to explore the Internet, and so he limited himself to using the computer only as a typewriter. Very soon, he started writing his first book on the laptop, and there were, as may be expected, many critical times when he practically lost whole chapters or didn't know where they went! My visits to his room were regular and frequent, and several times I brought back 'miraculously' (in his eyes!) some of the Chapters which he thought he had lost forever. Finally, the book was completed, and although I was away on sabbatical, he managed to have it printed and published with the help of others--under the title of "Arise, my Love...," the very first book he wrote using a computer!

Since our Satellite get-togethers, we began to meet more frequently especially over a cup of coffee around 9:30 AM. Frankly, I was more like a sounding board or devil's advocate than like a fan or disciple. We have discussed all sorts of topics about persons, state of the Church, state of Religious Life, theology, future of religions, sex, celibacy, sexual maturity of celibates, atheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., etc., and frequently we were more in disagreement than in agreement. Of course, all our discussions usually ended up peacefully, and even when we parted in disagreement, we would meet again to continue the discussion, when he would say that he had changed his mind or that I was biased. Actually, he would sometimes say that I was ultra-conservative appearing as a liberal and at other times say that I was ultra-liberal appearing as a conservative. Overall, he enjoyed the challenges I put before him, and, actually, he wanted to be challenged, for challenges helped him develop his inchoate ideas.

Bill upset some people with his autobiography, "Mystical Journey: An Autobiography," which they found to be too frank and too revealing. He was quite excited when writing it, and would often say that it would be shocking to readers. I would often provoke him by saying, "Come on Bill, now at your age, you can be honest enough to write anything and everything! No need to be fuzzy or vague. Tell us clearly what you think and reveal yourself fully!" As a good Jesuit, he gave copies of the pre-published manuscript to other senior Jesuits for feedback, and occasionally modified it. Overall he was pleased with the reception he got for his autobiography, which urged him to start another autobiographical project. Meanwhile he had got a new desktop computer and was eagerly working on his new project. He used to tell me that his new book would be even more revealing and shocking to people, and that he would be sending parts of it to persons he could confide in.

It was at this stage that one of the promising Jesuits of Japan, Roger Downey, wound up in a Tokyo hospital, suffering excruciating pain due to his throat cancer. As the doctors, both in USA and in Japan, had given up on him, he was simply waiting for the inevitable, being tenderly cared for by the nurses but unable to speak or move freely. Johnston would regularly go to see him, and often tell others of the pain that Roger courageously suffered. The painful last days of Roger touched Johnston so deeply that he often prayed for Roger's early death and wished that his own life would not be prolonged artificially if ever he had to end up in bed like Roger. He often said that he wanted to die quietly and quickly, without being placed in a medical facility for too long. Paradoxically, soon after Roger's death a stroke paralyzed Johnston, and what he most disliked, he had to go through--perhaps in a mental state that was much less lucid than that of Roger.

Bill Johnston
William Johnston was born on July 30, 1925, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His childhood memories were colored by the 'religious' wars then prevalent in Northern Ireland. His family later moved to Liverpool, and he entered the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1943. He arrived in Japan as a missionary in 1951, all set to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Gradually, however, he got interested in mysticism, Buddhism (especially Zen), and interreligious understanding. He was especially touched by the pioneering interreligious activities of Fr. Enomiya Lasalle, S.J., of whom he wrote: "I see Lassalle as a prophet of the twentieth century, ranking beside Thomas Merton and Bede Griffiths." After his theological studies in Kamishakujii, Japan, he was ordained a Priest on March 24, 1957.

In 1958, Fr. Johnston left by ship from Yokohama for Rome, where he tried to pursue his studies at the Gregorian for a short period of six months. Though his stay there was short, he underwent substantial changes in his character and outlook, thanks to the persons he met there. Recalling his experiences, he writes: "Those seven years [in Japan] had changed me completely; but my short stay in Rome would change me even more. It was nothing short of a revolution in my life." His next major stop was Lumen Vitae, the Catechetical Institute in Brussels, where he studied for another six months. It was here that he entrenched himself deeper into studies of mysticism and was exposed to various Asian and exotic mystic traditions, such as the TM (Transcendental Meditation) of the Indian Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

After a brief detour in New York, Johnston returned in 1960 to Japan to teach at Sophia University. Having no higher academic degrees, he felt uncomfortable for some time, but then after browsing through a copy of The Cloud of Unknowing, he decided to write a doctoral thesis on that book which, he felt, mesmerized him. His doctoral thesis was successfully completed under the direction of Fr. Tony Evangelista, and was published with an introduction by the eminent Thomas Merton, under the title of The Mysticism of "The Cloud of Unknowing." Regarding the success of this book, Johnston himself says, "After forty years, it is still in print with Fordham University Press and some people have told me it is my best book. I don't agree. But they say it."

His next major project was the translation of Endo Shusaku's Chinmoku 'Silence,' which he did against much Jesuit opposition (because the novel dealt with a Jesuit apostate!). Although not a professional translator, Fr. Johnston did an excellent job of translating, and, thanks to his translation, many people around the world came to know who Endo Shusaku was. His translation was critically acclaimed and is still being sold. With rumors floating around that a Hollywood movie will be made of the novel Silence, one may expect Johnston's translation to be on the market for some more years. Endo and Johnston remained good friends, and Johnston officiated at the memorial Mass for Endo.

Johnston's illustrious career includes numerous books on mysticism and mystical theology, such as The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism , Silent Music, Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion, Mystical Theology: The Science of Love, and Christian Zen. Even towards the end of his career, he was very much sought after for retreats and spiritual talks, and he would get occasional calls for interviews or video sessions. Until the stroke deprived him of free movements, one could see him spending hours meditating in quiet areas or reciting repetitive vocal prayers like the Jesus prayer or the Rosary. Among the Japanese he baptized is the current Archbishop of Tokyo, Rev. Okada, who will be present at Johnston's funeral.

Johnston has been one of the few recognizable names associated with Sophia University and the Jesuits of Japan. I have heard his name mentioned in numerous countries--especially in the English-speaking ones--and I was always amazed at the admiration people had for him and at their curiosity to know about his character and spirituality. People seem to like his English style and intelligible approach to mysticism.

Towards the end of his life, I often called him jovially "The Prophet of Doom," because he was much worried about the contemporary problems affecting the Church and predicted that an entirely new Church and new forms of Religious life have to emerge if they are to continue. Though he might have been a Prophet of Doom, he was also a Prophet of Hope, for he never gave in to despair or frustration but always inspired Christian confidence in resurrection and renewal of all things that look gloomy. His commitment to the welfare of the Church was never in doubt although he equally stressed that all religions must strive to work together in peace. One of the very last pieces he wrote on mysticism and religious harmony, "Cosmic Energy," can be read at:

Funeral Arrangements:
WAKE: October 14 (Th), 2010, 19:30 PM at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo (near Yotsuya Station on JR, Marunouchi, & Namboku lines)
FUNERAL MASS: October 15 (F), 2010, 13:30 PM at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo (near Yotsuya Station on JR, Marunouchi, & Namboku lines)

Bill Johnston at SJHouse

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Interreligious Vedanta in Japan

opening prayer
This afternoon (May 30, 2010), starting from 14:00, there were two significant events at Gotanda Seisen University: (1) "Golden Jubilee [of the Japan Vedanta Society (JVS)] Celebration Closing Ceremony" and (2) "Swami Vivekananda's 148th Birthday Celebration." Although I am not a member of the JVS, thanks to another professor, I received information about the celebration and was tempted by an invitation card. So although at Sophia University, there were Sophia Alumni Day celebrations, I opted to skip them and go to Gotanda. It took about 20 minutes from Yotsuya to Gotanda by train, via Yoyogi, and then about a 10-minute walk to the university. Surprisingly, there were a couple of Seisen student volunteers at Gotanda station and a few other spots, standing with a sign pointing to "Seisen University."

Thanks to the invitation, I was given a VIP tag and led into the hall before the 'ordinary' crowd and given a preferential seat in front. Very soon the hall was full (a few hundred guests) and the events began 15 minutes late... perhaps to remind all that the events are 'Indian' and will follow the "Indian timetable." :)

The MC was a Japanese lady who spoke beautiful English and Japanese. There were altogether eight 'talks' or 'discourses', one each by the following: (1) Sr. Junko Shioya (Chair of the Seisen Managing Board), (2) Swami Medhasananda (President of JVS), (3) Swami Smaranandaji (Vice President, Ramakrishna Mission), (4)Rev. Takeo Okada (Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo), (5) His Eminence H.K.Singh (Ambassador of India), (6) Rev. Ryojun Sato (Buddhist Priest of Jodo Sect & Prof. Emeritus of Taisho University), (7) Prof. Yasuji Yamaguchi (Professor of Meiji University), and (8) Prof. Tsuyoshi Nara (Vice President of JVS). Fortunately, most spoke briefly. Prof. Sato spoke longest, and Prof. Yamaguchi perhaps second longest. Being academics, they were perhaps asked to give serious lectures. The non-academic VIPs were reasonably brief.

The non-academic VIPs gave the general soft salutations--with the usual words of thanks and pleasure at being invited, etc.--mingled with a personal note of how they got involved in Vedanta Society and how they happened to be there. The two Swamijis gave a short history of the Vedanta Society's founding in Japan 50 years ago, noting the role played by Vivekananda himself, who had been in Japan and impressed everyone with his eloquence and wisdom, as he had done at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The Swamijis also referred to the Japanese and Indian contributions, especially the cooperation extended by the Indian Embassy and the several Ambassadors. The Ambassador spoke briefly wishing all the best to the Society and assuring support.

Archbishop Okada
The Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo, Okada Takeo, was perhaps the most misfitting among the group (for he was neither an Indian nor a Japanese engaged in Vedanta research or acquainted with India, as every other speaker sitting on stage was), but the most forthright and simple. He confessed that he knew little about India or Hinduism and was reluctant to accept the invitation, but was told to say 'anything' he wanted to say, and so accepted the invitation. As he continued speaking, however, he came across as extremely honest, spontaneous, plain, unassuming, and impressive. He did refer to the general ignorance of the Japanese about India and Indian religious thoughts--except for the great Buddha and Buddhism. Few Japanese, he said, seem familiar with Hinduism, and it was interesting to read about Hinduism in novels like Endo Shusaku's Deep River. He recalled Mother Theresa and her example of universal love, and the image of India as a poor or suffering nation, although currently undergoing changes due to economic prosperity. The Archbishop also tied up Indian poverty with the current Japanese situation asking the audience if Japan is any better, especially morally, spiritually, and psychologically--even as the population is graying and children are rare. He referred to the nearly 30,000 suicides taking place in Japan every year, and asked what contributions the Religions in Japan make to alleviate such hopelessness among the population. Confessing his faith in Christ and recalling Christ's commandments to love others as oneself, he reiterated the obligations of all religions to work in harmony for the alleviation of human suffering, which, he reminded all, was also one of the major aims of the Buddha.

Rev. Ryojun Sato gave perhaps the most academic paper, on "Buddhist Sangha and its Idea of Co-living." He bagan humorously with the three Hindi words he learned while he was in India in the early 1960s: pani 'water', kana 'food', and sona 'sleep'. He said he could get along well in India with only these three words, but today the only word he would consider necessary for survival is ... dharma. (Dharma is one of those 'magnet' words of India that can attract to itself a variety of meanings such as 'duty', 'obligation', 'commitment', 'God's will', etc., etc., depending on the exponent.) Elaborating Dharma and Buddhism, Rev. Sato stressed the need to 'co-live' or live harmoniously with all beings (humans, animals, and plants), recalling the ecological connection we all have with everything around us.

Prof. Yasuji Yamaguchi, a philosopher by profession, spoke of his beginnings in Western Philosophy and how he remained unsatisfied and unfufiflled until he encountered Eastern ideas in Sri Aurobindo's works. Since Sri Aurobindo acknowledged Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Vivekananda as his guides, Prof. Yamaguchi's talk was the most appropriate for the occasion. Prof. Yamaguchi referred to various works of Sri Aurobindo, citing key passages from Aurobindo's Life Divine and other writings.

After the talks, i.e., around 5:30, there were light refreshments--spicy bits of crackers, a samosa with curried potato, a sweet laddu ball, etc.--thanks to Mr Chandrani, a restaureteur in Tokyo. The audience was then entertained from 6:00 by Santoor Pundit Shivkumar Sharma and various other groups. Unfortunately I had to leave the great performance around 6:30 and so I could only hear the first performance of the Pundit. That was perhaps the first time I saw and heard Santoor, a small boxlike 'portable piano' with 100 strings! The performer uses two strikers (like chopsticks or unscrewed hands of thin scissors) to tap the strings and produce sounds of three octaves!

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Vedanta, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda:

Vedanta: 'The end of Vedas', literally with reference to the last books of the Vedic Canon, namely, the Upanishads [coming after a series of books classified as Samhitas, Brahmanas, and the Aranyakas], and figuratively, as the definitive end and purpose of all the Vedas (the Hindu/Indian Sacred Scriptures). As the Vedas have no namable authors, the Vedanta too is authorless, but there are several major exponents, the most significant being the eminnet theologian-philosopher-mystic Sankara of 8th century. There are different versions and contradictory interpretations of Vedanta. Currently in the West, perhaps Deepak Chopra, the New Age and Hollywood Guru, is perhaps a well-known and popular exponent.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886): An extrordinary Hindu sage, mystic, and teacher, who was not 'academically' learned, but whom great academics sought after to learn from. Although a Hindu, he was most notable for sponsoring religious harmony, interreligious dialog, and ecumenism, significantly much earlier than the Catholic Church (which began its journey of interreligious dialog only after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s). Many are the minds that have been influenced by this little man, who lived a simple life, seeking neither fame nor glory.

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902): If Ramakrishna were Jesus, Vivekananda would be St. Paul, or if Ramakrishna were St. Ignatius, Vivekananda would be St. Francis Xavier. A brash atheist and rationalist when young, he was touched by Ramakrishna's sanctity and became his ardent missionary. He is most notable for his eloquent and articulate presentation of Hinduism at the First World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893), where he rebutted counterarguments and impressed many with his magnanimous and rational views. His International travels took him also to other countries like Japan, UK, etc. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission on May 1, 1897 (perhaps on the model of Catholic Religious Orders?) to keep Ramakrishna's messages alive. Although at times a sharp critic of the West and Christianity, he essentially followed the lead of Ramakrishna in exhorting people of all religions to live in harmony respecting each other.

Ramakrishna Mission: While we read frequently of Hindus who hate or injure non-Hindus, most Hindus love peace with other religions, and Ramakrishna's contribution here has been significant. In India, the Ramakrishna Mission often celebrates Christmas inviting Catholic priests. In Japan, too, the Mission has among its members a Jesuit Priest and perhaps several nuns and lay Catholics.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Case of Christovao Ferreira, Hero of Endo Shusaku's "Silence," now Online

Nagasaki 26 Martyrs Museum
Nagasaki Jesuit Museum of 26 Martyrs

I remember reading the novel Silence of Endo Shusaku many years ago and being touched, like everybody else, perhaps, by the hard decision faced by the main character. The book, written in Japanese under the title of Chinmoku, was translated by the Jesuit Fr. William Johnston (who, by the way, was a friend of the late Endo Shusaku and is now unfortunately bed-ridden) and published first by Sophia University, in cooperation with Charles E. Tuttle Co., in 1969. As it gained popularity around the world, mainly among Christians, it was published by others and established itself as a great Christian classic.

Silence is essentially the story of a Jesuit priest of the 17th century by the name of Christovoa Ferreira, who, under torture, gave up his faith while even many of his Jesuit confreres, lay men, women, and children underwent torture and stood firm in their faith. In the novel, Ferreira encounters Rodrigues, another daring Jesuit who tries to set the wrong done by Ferreira right; the novel touches on the question of commitment, loyalty, fidelity, faith, etc. Ferreira, of course, was not the only one who gave up his faith, but the fact he was a Jesuit and acting as the 'Provincial' or local superior when he succombed made him a special person of interest. The novel, of course, takes literary liberties with the true events, and it is easy to get confused as to which parts are true and which are not--much like in the case of Da Vinci Code.

It is this confusion that Fr. Hubert Cieslik wanted to remove by writing a detailed account of the historical events that led to Ferreira's apostasy and the events that followed. Cieslik's account was published in 1973 in the Sophia University journal Monumenta Nipponica, and, to my knowledge, no free copy was available on the Web. Now, at last, a freely downloadable version of Cieslik's article is available for everyone to read, print, and 'enjoy'--if enjoying is possible while reading such an event.

The case of Ferreira and the seriousness with which people took Faith those days are sure to be startling to modern readers--especially at present, when so many scandals plague the Church and other Authorities. Some may even see a parallel between the priests of those days and the priests of these days... and the current social climate that makes 'apostasy' invisible or casual.

You can access Cieslik's article by clicking the picture below and selecting the appropriate (first, for some time at least!) entry.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Fading Face of Christianity...

Amsterdam St. Nicholas
[From Editor, 2010-04-02:
*Due to the unconscionable activities of spammers, currently even genuine non-spam reactions to this blog won't be displayed immediately... Feel free, however, to post them, even stating your email address, for after filtering the spam I remove the writer's email address from the entry before posting them to the public so that you won't be spammed by these spamming bums.
End 'From Editor']

I often feel that if one wants to write a book about a non-native country, one should do so within a week or two after arrival. Why? Because after a couple of weeks, the wonder disappears and the strange or noteworthy things become 'normal'. It is as if one becomes blind to things after becoming familiar with them. So here I am, not to write a book, but just to note a few things after my recent 24-day trip to Benelux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg].

The occasion was primarily a couple of lectures I had to give at the University of Antwerp, but I also used the opportunity to 'observe Christianity in its natural habitat' and research about language use, especially English use, in these countries. Here I'd like to reflect mainly on religious issues.

Brugge Church
When I mentioned to several Europeans that one of my interests is to observe Christianity in its natural habitat--i.e., in countries which were once called "Christian", such as Europe, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, & South America--they all said very casually, "Well, Europe is no more Christian." When I spoke with a young couple, I began a generic sentence with, "Supposing you, as a Christian,..." and the man immediately cut me short to say, "Don't assume we are Christians!"

Although missionaries from former 'Christian countries' still engage non-Christians in many 'non-Christian' countries around the world and work hard to convert the 'pagans,' it is a sad fact that even in their own countries their sermons and calls to conversion will go unheeded. I heard repeatedly from priests and the few practicing Christians that young people in Europe don't come any more even near the Church. Most Christians in Europe, a priest told me, are "Chretiens aux quatre roues" (Christians on four wheels). Apparently, they come to Church only on four wheels: when they are carried as babies in a baby-carriage, when they are brought to first communion in a decorated car, when they arrive to contract a marriage in a luxurious stretch limousine, and finally when they arrive as dead bodies in a hearse. Even the age of "Sunday Christians" has gone! Sundays are too frequent!

When I engaged in conversation with some young people, especially in the Catholicism-oozing Flemish city of Antwerp, they were all extremely gentle, caring, sincere, serious, and earnest. They only seemed to be turned off by Christianity or Christian discourse! After one of my lectures on Hinduism and Christianity, a participant, presumably engaged in educating the young in religion, commented: "Whenever we announce a meeting related to Christianity or Christian practices, hardly anyone signs up! But if we announce a meeting about Yoga, Zen, Mindfulness, or any such Asian spiritual matters, people sign up in large numbers!" She was not the only one commenting that way. Another Catholic priest said that whenever he offered anything Christian such as Ignatian Exercises or Catholic Moral Teachings, hardly anyone signed up; but if he taught Asian meditative techniques with a title such as "Mindfulness" or "Yoga"--each session lasting even 90 minutes or more--many people signed up. "They not only sign up, but also persevere, never missing a session!"

Another thing that struck me was the large number of Moslems (as visibly identifiable from their garb, hair-style, hair veils, living quarters, restaurants, food stores, etc.) especially in the Netherlands and Belgium. Certain areas in Belgium had several Islamic blocks and numerous Islamic areas, as if designated for them. I also noticed mosques in several cities as I was traveling far and wide within Benelux by train. In fact, because of their exceptional appearance, Moslems and Afro-Europeans strike you more often than the White Europeans whom you tend to take for granted. Women with children--the children being either inside or outside the womb--and young adolescents too were mostly non-Whites.

Europe is perhaps still Christian at least in architecture! There are numerous churches, Cathedrals, and monasteries still in existence though hardly any of them serving the purposes they were originally created for! They are now special theaters, or museums, or stages for entertainment.... Cathedrals serving modern needs! The Jesuit Catholic Church in Brugge (the very beautiful ancient city in Belgium) is a typical case in point. Unable to maintain it and unable to pass it on to other religious groups, the Jesuits seem to have sold it to an enterprise that apparently promised to use it for cultural purposes so that at least the vestige of religiosity may be preserved. However, in a short time, the buyers seem to have sold it to another entertainment company, and currently it is used as a theater that caters to those who want to experience entertainment as it was several centuries ago: with fire-spitters, fire-eaters, magicians, sexy dancers, etc., etc.

Brugge Canal
Clearly these are simply facts... What they signify is open to many interpretations. Is Christianity finished in Europe? What has caused the decline? Will anything resurrect Christianity in Europe? Will they have another St. Francis of Assissi or a St. Ignatius Loyola who diverted the course of history? Who in Europe pays attention to the doctrinal, moral, and ethical minutiae that priestly and religious persons dictate, sermonize, propound or write volumes about?

When I asked similar questions to some locals, including Jesuit priests, many seemed hopeful and not at all desperate or alarmed. While even acknowledging the current gloomy situation, they all thought that it was only the swing of a pendulum in the non-Christian direction, and it will swing back in the Christian direction. One observant priest stated, "I think Christianity as we knew it is gone and won't come back in Europe. However, a new form of Christianity, much more meaningful to the modern humans, will emerge out of the current crisis."
[photo credits: Wikipedia]