INTERVIEWS (St. Ignatius Church’s “SOCIAL ARM”)

NEWS FROM JAPAN

1. indexOnigiri distribution     

     The article below which I wrote, was published in the St. Ignatius English Bulletin March issue. We share it with you so you could know that in this seemingly affluent society, “poverty” does exists and with the pandemic times it is getting worst. The Church in Japan tries its best to address this problem and in St. Ignatius Church where we work, it is concretized in three ways.

 

 INTERVIEWS (St. Ignatius Church’s “SOCIAL ARM”)

 The foreign community has probably heard that in St. Ignatius there is a group that cooks curry for the homeless or distributes onigiri (rice balls). But do we know more than that? The Bulletin interviewed two key persons who could tell us more. Beyond the Eucharistic Celebrations and the administration of the Sacraments, beyond organizing catechisms classes and group activities during special feasts and occasions etc., there are groups doing a different service building up Christ’s Body, “for the body itself is not made up only of one part, but of many parts” (1Cor. 12).

 Preparing Onigiri with love

With Bro. Hiroaki Yoshida, SJ.

 Q. What is the name of your Group?

A. Yotsuya Rice-Ball Companions

 Q. When and how did your Group start? Who was the Founder? How many volunteers are there?

 A. In April 2000, we asked the people living on the streets near Sophia University and the church, “Is there anything we could do to help you?” and this was how we started. The founders were 4-5 Sophia University students and members of St. Ignatius Parish. In the beginning, there were 6 volunteers. Now there are 20. 

Q. What is your mission/objectives?

 A. By visiting people living on the streets, checking on their health and safety, and listening to their stories, we hope to help people “live together” and not be indifferent to homeless people.

 Q. Now that we are in pandemic times, can you tell me more about the situation?

 A. About 120 people per week come and get onigiri. For making rice balls a maximum of 6 volunteers are allowed and 13 for visiting the homeless in various places to avoid the 3 C’s.

 Q. Where do you get funding for your activity? Who are the volunteers? What do they do?

 A. Funding comes from the Church’s budget. Volunteers are parishioners, students, and non-Catholics. They make onigiri, visit homeless people, write and edit Onigiri Newsletters, manage the Website, update the blog and accompany homeless people to the Welfare Office if they so desire.

 Q. What challenges have you met? What joys?

A. The above activities are designed to bring good benefits to homeless people. For example, we look for where they are, plan a course to visit them, and change or add new courses to the previous ones. When we visit them with rice balls and newsletters, they are happy to see us. The smiles on their faces bring us joy. It is also a joy to be able to serve every week, even if we are in pandemic times.

 

With Mr. 岩田鐵夫 (Iwata)

Curry distribution in pandemic times

Curry evoking childhood memories

A.     The name of our group is “St. Ignatius’ Curry Group.”

 Q. When and how did it start? Who was the founder? How many volunteers are there?

 A. In 2009, we took over from another soup kitchen group and restarted it as "St. Ignatius Curry Group." In the previous year, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in the U.S. and there was a great depression, and in Japan, many temporary workers were laid off. The Catholic Church issued an urgent appeal to tackle the issue of poverty more than ever before. There are no special founders. We usually have about 15 volunteers, but due to the Corona disaster, we have about 10 volunteers to avoid crowding.

 Q. What is your group’s mission/objectives? How many people join the activity?

 Every Monday from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. the Joseph Hall and Teresia Hall are air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. There, people can exchange information with one another while enjoying a hot meal of curry and rice, evoking the nostalgic taste of home and childhood. We have also provided showers, health consultations with a physician, and "free consultations” by a lawyer. We also held a Christmas Party on a Monday in December, where everyone could enjoy a meal and entertainment. However, since February 17, 2020, when the halls were closed due to the Coronavirus, we have been providing curry bento boxes, bananas, drinks, masks, etc. at the church entrance in a non-contact, walk-through manner. The number of people who come to the church has increased from 130-150 to 140-230!

Q. Where do you get funding? Who are the volunteers? What do they do?

 A. On the first Sunday of the month, we hold a "Rice Offering Project" during Mass, where parishioners are asked to bring rice, rice gift tickets, pickled plums, dried seaweed, plastic wrap, curry spoons, etc. to be used as materials for our activity. (This project has currently been discontinued due to the Corona disaster.) We also get donations from parishioners.

 Q. What challenges have you experienced? What joys?

 A. With the Corona 19 disaster, we are challenged to look for new ways to support the people who come. Even if it is only once a week, we are happy if we can provide a hearty meal and time to interact with people living in a poor environment. It is also a joy to be able to serve every week. in these pandemic times.

 Shelter accomodations

With Bro. Hiroaki Yoshida, SJ.

 Q. What is the name of your group

A. The St. Ignatius Catholic Church Shelter Project

Q. When did your group start? Why? Who were its founding members? How many volunteers do you have right now?

A.     We began at the end of May 2020, to provide needy people with temporary shelters. Among us are a priest and people who have been helping needy people at St. Ignatius Church and people who have been engaging in community health and welfare, to a total of 9 volunteers.

QWhat is your mission or objectives? 

A. We want to create a society where each and every one of us can be alive without being neglected. We value and protect people’s safety, their dignity, their expression of intention, their hopes for the future  

Q. Where do you get funding? Where do your volunteers come from? What exactly do they do?

A. We are funded by an Individual Foundation, donations from outside, Christians, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan. The volunteers do shelter maintenance, management, and cleaning.

QWhat challenges have you faced? What joys?

 A. 1. Due to differences in language and culture, there have been ”unexpected ways” of using facilities. As a result, we have been forced to replace the equipment in the facility.

2. It may be a temporary aid and may not be a fundamental solution in view of the law and administration. We face a dilemma that we cannot always realize the objectives we cherish.

3. To draw out the needs and issues of users.

4. Being able to provide places and opportunities that will lead to a better future for its users

5. Being aware of the narrowness of our field of vision and expanding it

 

In his encyclical FRATELLI TUTTI, Pope Francis hopes “to create a community of belonging and solidarity” (FT 36). He seeks “to create processes of encounter where we, as a people, become desirous of meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone” (FT 126). He pointed to the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an icon for our times in order to rebuild our wounded world. It shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion and act instead as neighbors, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good (FT 67). In this season of Lent, we can decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders (FT 70).