Japan: Fertile Ground for Neocatechumenals

Missions Emphasizing the Incarnation Rather Than Inculturation

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ROME, MARCH 14, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Japan has long been regarded a tough country to evangelize. But not impossible, as an Italian missionary has learned.



Father Antonello Iapicca arrived in Japan in 1990, accompanied by 17 seminarians from 15 countries. All were members of the Neocatechumenal Way, attracted by the missionary zeal of Bishop Joseph Fukahori of Takamatsu.

When Father Iapicca arrived, there were five priests in the diocese, four of them older than 65. There were two seminaries, but no seminarians. "We didn´t speak a word of Japanese," the Italian missionary recalled.

Today, there are 25 Neocatechumenal communities, and 27 priests from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary have been ordained. "It is not a surprising growth, but the signs of hope are multiplied," the missionary said.

"Our strength lies not so much in carrying forward inculturation, but rather the Incarnation," Father Iapicca stressed. "In other words, we do not try to insert Jesus in the prevailing culture, but to raise the culture to the level of Jesus´ incarnation."

"We have entered Japanese society with humility; poor; and without even knowing the language. Little among the littlest," he said. "We are carrying out our work by beginning with those who are unable to live in an efficient and perfect society" such as Japan´s.

Only 400,000 Japanese are Catholics, 0.3% of the population. Added to these are 500,000 Philippine and South American Catholic immigrants.

"If you are a Catholic and decide to stop working at 6 o´clock in the afternoon to go to be with your family, then you are regarded as someone who is ´different,´ a ´loser,´ you have ended your career," Father Iapicca said. "To dedicate more time to one´s wife, family and children means to break with the prevailing social rules."

"A generation of youths is coming up now that has virtually lived without a father," he added. "We want to transmit knowledge of the Gospel with intense witness, in particular, through Christian humanism. The challenge is enormous, but we are not lacking in enthusiasm."