Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How To Help Japan

Once again the earth shuddered. A week ago the world stopped its frenetic spin, its eyes riveted on the East, as its Japanese side of the family stared death and anguish in the face—again. Photos, media reports, and speculation have brought a nation’s vulnerability uncomfortably close to home; yet we’re unable to look away. Where could we look to feel secure?

Students collect donations for quake victims.
Photo credit: David Powell,
As incredible as it seems, given the face of a crisis that changes by the hour, relief efforts have begun, starting admirably with the people themselves, though in painfully limited ways. “Neighbors are helping each other” with food and other necessities (Sister Francesca Matsuoka, FSP). Sister Madeline Nakatsu, CSJ, reports that, in a communal approach to crisis typical of the Japanese, everyone throughout the country “is cutting back on the use of electricity, gasoline, food and water in order to have more going to the affected areas” (Sr. Theresa Kvale, CSJ). News reports relate how, en masse, people are flinging their doors open to total strangers; everyone is locked in the same struggle with Nature.

A topic not yet explored in the news media is the effort of the Catholic Church in Japan and abroad to address the area’s staggering, multi-faceted needs. Catholic News Service published an excellent article summarizing the current condition of the Church in the quake zone, as well as initial relief responses from various regions of Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Caritas International is carrying out a principal role, with support from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Their Web sites and donation pages are: and

Other reputable information sites are: Fides News Agency (Agenzia Fides), the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, and Zenit, a Catholic news service based in Rome. Web sites of missionary religious congregations, including the Daughters of St. Paul (, are sources of current information both about their communities abroad and the people these communities serve. Such sites prove to be as accurate as any others and often, are even more so, due to their connections.

Photo credit: David Powell
I found at Charity Navigator, a secular source, its own list of non-profits that it deemed best equipped to help in Japan. There the Catholic Medical Mission Board enjoys a four-star ranking. The well-known CRS was not ranked, simply because Charity Navigator can evaluate only those organizations that file with the IRS; filing is not required of religious organizations. Also very helpful is Charity Navigator’s eleven tips for giving online carefully and with forethought after any natural disaster.

Today Japan’s bishops met in Sendai to map out the Church’s initial response. Comprising less than 1% of the total population, Catholics are sprinkled throughout the country in 16 dioceses. It’s not known how many have lost their lives, but they are very much a part of a situation that the director of Caritas Japan described as “horrifying.” Buoyed by a hope strengthened by the world’s solidarity, however, the bishops have begun to organize the Church’s support by setting up an Emergency Center to arrange and coordinate humanitarian operations under the supervision of Caritas Japan, according to Fides News Agency today.

Naturally both bishops and laity will be relying on other clergy, as well as on the women and men religious, to lead and carry out much of the Church’s response. But how do they do that if the ecclesiastical infrastructure is severely handicapped? An earthquake does not pick and choose its victims, and often enough, those who are best positioned to assist in relief are themselves hobbled by loss of resources, stamina, and even personnel. Witness Haiti, hardly a year ago. How do we help the helpers?
  • The Salesians confirm that all their communities are safe, but some students from the nursery in Fukushima are still missing.
  • The General Master of the Dominicans reports that they are unable to contact their members—men or women—in Japan. Rumor has it that they have survived, although one of their houses has apparently been destroyed.
  • Canadian missionary Fr AndrĂ© Lachapelle died as a result of the tsunami.
  • Two Catholic news services reported that three priests of the Society of St. Paul are missing, but if that was ever the case, this evening the U.S. Pauline leadership stated that all is well.
  • Though the Christian Brothers are safe, they share in the common shortage of food and fuel, a hardship for them and for the young people with them.
    Photo credit:
The Daughters of St. Paul number 13 communities and 140 sisters in the country, including a community of 7 older sisters and a book center in Sendai. This small community is living in its house, which is “in shambles, and pieces of the walls are still crumbling, since the shocks are continuing,” writes Sr. Francesca, general councilor. “As regards the book center, which is located downtown, it’s quite far from the house, and there’s no way they can know the center’s condition.*

“Even though there are no direct means of transportation by which to reach the community of Sendai, [Sister Johanna Mishima], the provincial [superior] is considering sending a sister from Tokyo to bring them necessities, traveling by various means.”

Even as the situation still unfolds, the emotional and spiritual fallout is profound, an inkling of what lies ahead once the worst is over. Even now there is a need for the evangelizing mission of the Pauline Family, for sharing the compassion of God and communicating the hope that is within us.

In fact, on March 12, Father Daisuke Narui, executive director of Caritas Japan, told Fides, “I believe [that] in Japan currently, marked by the economic crisis, struck by the social phenomenon of depression and suicide, this painful event may be an opportunity to spread the values of the Gospel, that is, the fraternity of all men and women, the building of common good, the recognition that every person has the dignity of a child of God and is important in the eyes of God.” He concluded, “If, with our work and our witness, we can communicate that, then from this evil will come good.”

If you would like to financially support the ministry of the Daughters of St. Paul that will evolve over the months ahead, assist with their material needs, or help them plan for recovery, you can donate securely online at, or send a check, made out to the Daughters of St. Paul, to my attention (Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP) at 50 St. Paul’s Ave. Boston, MA  02130. Questions? E-mail me at or call me at 617-676-4423.

Regardless of what you may choose to do materially, we ask you to pray with us for the Japanese people. Prayer suggestions have been prepared by our sisters with audio and visual accompaniment and have been posted at Join us in sharing hope and the grace of God.

Photo credit: David Powell,

* An update of Friday, March 18, states that the Pauline Center sustained major damage, and the sisters' house is almost totally destroyed. They are living on the rice and canned food they had on hand, but supplies are low. Nevertheless, "they're very grateful to the Lord, who has saved their lives. They're also grateful for the gestures of solidarity and prayer" they've received. "All of them thank and greet us" (Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, FSP, superior general).


  1. Thanks for this, sharing on FB. May God bless all those people and organisations involved in this mission.


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