I am Father Jim Mylet, A Maryknoller, ordained in 1975. I was born and raised in St. Margaret's Parish on Queen Anne Hill attending St. Margaret's Grade School and graduating from O`Dea High School. I first came to Japan as a seminarian in 1970. I work in the northern island of Hokkaido where we presently have a couple of feet of snow around the rectory. I am pastor of two Japanese parishes and diocesan coordinator for migrant ministry. Our Diocese (Sapporo) consists of all the island of Hokkaido、population of about 5,8 million people (roughly equivalent to the population of Washington I believe) with about 17,300 Japanese Catholics and about 2,100 foreign Catholics.
All the parishioners here and I are physically okay. but depressed by the overwhelming devastatiopn dealt to our nation. There really are no accurate figures on the deceased and missing since whole towns were swept out to sea. The estimates are that the death toll will be well over 10,000, but nobody really knows since lines of communication are down and the roads are blocked and power cut off to so many people. Sizable aftershocks are still taking place. Because the nuclear plant was affected (Fukushima) which is about 150 miles north of Tokyo, and there is a seeming melt down taking place there, people are deeply troubled . This sensitivity is heightened by the experiences of the atomic disease from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the recent memory of the catastrophe at Chernobyl. It is not only this nuclear reactor which is not functioning, but there was previously a problem with another one. So there is a serious power shortage hitting the Tokyo metropolitan area where much of Japan's population is concentrated. There are rolling blackouts in Tokyo due to the power shortage , which is affecting the trains, subways etc. With this being on the news all the time , it is kind of like when President Kennedy was assassinated, it has had a very depressing and numbing effect on the nation's psyche. It is at times like this that people really pull together and help one another out. There are all kinds of stories like this on TV. The subways and trains were stopped, and people were taking other people into their homes, although many were also just sleeping in the stations.
After the earthquake in Awaji and Hanshin (Osaka) area approximately 17 years ago, people really pulled together and rebuilt the area. This earthquake and tidal wave were much stronger though and the devastaation is overwhelming. Japan right now was just starting to recover economically, with many of the young people being unemployed or underemployed, and the recent college graduates finding few job opportunities. People really want to work together to rebuild, but with so much of the infrastructure being wiped out the task is formidable.
The two main diocese affected are Saitama and Sendai. Where the earthquake hit, Sendai, is a diocese with probably around 13,000 Catholics. One priest a 77 year old Quebec Foreign Missioner died of a heart attack at the time of the quake. One priest is also missing. Because the Church tends to build on hills everywhere only two places were affected by the tsunami, although there was damage from the earthquake. With the phones still being out in so many places and the power lines being down、it will be a while before an accurate p;icture can be drawn up. The other diocese, Saitama, is unique in that approximately 82% of the Catholics there are foreigners (many from Brazil and Peru of Japanese ancestry). In many of the cities around Japan there were simulation drills in case a disaster struck, also trying to involve the foreigners, although this met with limited success. No word is out yet about the foreign population.
The diocese of Sendai being rural has an aging population, The struggle to get the people their medicine , an adequate supply of water, food, and blankets are the immediate needs; with providing housing coming up in the next phase. Many people are sleeping and staying on the floors in gymnasiums or public halls..
Right now Japan is like Israel when they came back from the Exile and found the Temple destroyed and their homes occupied, homeless-( In the case of Japan homes destroyed) It is a time when people lose heart, and the Church is trying to be a beacon of hope in these difficult circumstances.
Keep us in your prayers and thoughts.
Fr. Jim Mylet M,M,