Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
on the Move
N° 106 (Suppl.-I), April 2008
Problems and needs
and local AOS
AOS National Director, Japan
Dear people of the Apostleship of the Sea,
I was very surprised to be asked for this task to
address you today. I will share my experience and through it, some
problems, challenges and needs will appear.
I feel it is a very poor intervention. I do not
want to bring the attention to me. I just want to say that I am a very
privileged person to be part of the AOS ministry and mission in
- The now Cardinal Hamao asked me, 15 years
ago, to be in the AOS Chaplain in Yokohama, after the former
Chaplain died suddenly. His 16 years work made my taking over easier
as there were already a practice and activities. AOS was not new
- I was given the opportunity to be a full time
chaplain, without being in charge of the foreign community at a
nearby church. So I was free to give priority to the seafarers and
be flexible to adjust my schedule to their situation and needs, for
example, masses at their convenient time, transport for the
seafarers to the nearby church (Catholic or others), when mass was
not possible on board. If I was not free like this, I would not have
been able to give a good service especially on Sundays. Thanks to
Bishop Umemura to have given me the same opportunities. He has
himself come with me for the ship visiting; he came to the Seafarers
Centre and met some seafarers too.
- I am happy to have 4 regular lay
volunteers to work with and some others occasionally.
- I am privileged to have a Seafarers Centre
(owned by The Mission to Seafarers) as a base for the work. There
are a lot of advantages, with some burdens as well, of course.
- As I was already working in a parish of the
Diocese, therefore I continued receiving the same stipend and
I was provided with a place to live, too.
- AOS has its own accounts, the same as
any parish. There was a very good amount of money left by the former
Chaplain; it was and still is of very good support.
- I have started this work before the
implementation of ISPS. It was, then, much easier to enter
the ports and get on board the ships than it is now. ISPS has
brought good improvement for the ships safety, but at the same time
plenty of restrictions. Some private ports just do not allow us at
all to go for ship visiting. They deny the seafarers to go ashore.
The process to enter the ports is much more complicated.
- Now as National Director, I am on the
Commission for the Refugees, Migrants and the People on the Move and
with the representatives of each Diocese. Therefore, it gives me
a place to inform about AOS ministry and raise collaboration,
little by little.
- I am with Bishop Tani who is in charge of
this commission. It is a big advantage that Bishop Tani shows
great interest in AOS. In case of the appointment of another Bishop
who would not show such a strong interest, the National
Director’s influence might be very limited. He has appointed 3 other
AOS members to be with me to make my responsibility more effective.
He attends actively our yearly AOS National Conference.
Without his support, AOS would not be as it is now.
- The 3 other members and I are financially
supported by the Commission so that it gives me (us) a lot of
advantages for attending international conferences, for visiting AOS
members in Japan, for material, etc. Each year for the day of
the Refugees, Migrants and People on the Move, Bishop Tani publishes
a message that is sent to all Catholic churches and religious
orders. Donations are welcome. Half of this fund raising goes to the
National Commission, the other half goes to each Diocesan
Commission. It is up to the Diocesan AOS representative (if any) to
get financial support from his Diocese.
- I am privileged also to work ecumenically
with the Anglicans, the Methodists, and formerly with the German
- Privileged to be with the seafarers:
- 80% of the seafarers coming to Japan are from
South East/Asia. Among them about 30% at least are from the
Philippines, then from China and Europe. There are a little more
than 3,000 Japanese active seafarers.
- If we look at the origin of the seafarers, we
have an idea of the religion they belong to, if any. I have the
opportunity to meet many Catholics, mostly Filipinos. Even among
them, the situation is changing, secularization has started,
fundamentalist groups are growing, etc. 99% of Masses onboard are
requested by Filipinos. Fewer and fewer crew is asking for Mass
onboard, 1/4 compared with 20 years ago. I never had any request
from seafarers of traditionally catholic countries. It is not only a
- I have opportunity to meet many seafarers
from other Christian denominations. It is very interesting to hear
what they believe, the way they celebrate and they pray.
Sometimes we can go to a quite deep level of understanding and
communication. Ecumenism is a part of the AOS ministry.
- I have many contacts with seafarers of other
faiths as Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, etc. Contacts also with people
from communist and socialist backgrounds. This is an occasion to
listen to their point of view, to learn many good things they have.
In Japan, only 1% of the population is Christian, 0.3% is Catholic.
It is a common reality all over Asia. This is an inter-faith or
inter-religious dialogue in unofficial contacts.
- Privileged also to deal with port agents,
authorities, stevedores, watchmen, Japanese Seamen Union and ITF,
etc. It is a very important part of my work as I (we) have to deal
with them for our work. I consider my presence among people of
the port as a part of my vocation as a missionary priest:
- There are very few Christians in the
port related world.
- People in and around the ports are not
familiar and can not imagine without difficulty the kind of
services we offer to seafarers. They often see the ship visitors as
people trying to convert people to their religion.
- Being a priest, I have
opportunities to share my experience and reality of the
outside world to the Church people, through clergy meetings and
other occasions. But other people have few occasions to share their
experience and concerns for the seafarers. There is a challenge to
find and give them opportunity to do so.
Myself and probably many people and priests
involved in this missionary work can tell that is haw we have been transformed by
it. Visiting seafarers onboard gives one a great opportunity to meet
people of different nationalities, faiths and beliefs. We spend a good
deal of time with them, listening to them, sharing freely on their
faith, family concerns, working conditions, etc. With full respect, we
can occasionally share our own faith. We are with them, in their own
working and living place. The Holy Spirit is working through us for the
benefit of the seafarers and also through the seafarers for the benefit
of the priest, of other ships visitors and then of the Church community.
I am one of the few privileged Chaplains. I hope
we can provide to more people the conditions that have made me
privileged; - to more people in Japan itself where we have more than 200
ports, 105 have a Catholic church near by, - to more people in all Asia
where the ministry must have a special color, - to all other part of the
world that will be visited by Asian seafarers. Asia is becoming the
centre of the world. Will the Church and the Gospel be present at the
right time? I hope so.
Thanks for your attention.