The community of Good Samaritan Sisters in Japan is encouraging all people of good will to unite with them in January for a special week of solidarity and prayer for the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
While last week’s (December 7) earthquake off Japan’s north-east coast didn’t cause any fatalities or severe property damage, it must have been traumatic for the many thousands of people trying to rebuild and recover from the massive magnitude-nine earthquake and ten-metre tsunami that ravaged the same region last year.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami which struck on March 11, 2011, also known as 3-11, devastated lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and whole towns. It also triggered disastrous meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, with far-reaching effects for the entire country.
The latest report from the National Police Agency of Japan said that 15,875 people were killed, 6,120 were injured, and 2,725 are still missing as a result of 3-11. In the worst-affected communities along the north-east coast, around 330,000 people are said to still be living in temporary accommodation, and some may not return to their homes or towns for years, if ever.
According to Good Samaritan Sisters in Japan, despite the support of government agencies, civic and religious groups, including the Catholic Church, life continues to be very difficult for many 3-11 survivors, particularly in the hardest-hit prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.
In early November, Sisters Yoshi Suzukawa and Etsuko Hattori, both from Nara in the south-west of Japan, visited Fukushima with a group of Tomigaoka parishioners and other friends from Tokyo, Kobe and Australia. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit affected communities and to offer support to the Congregation de Notre Dame Sisters in their work with children who have been orphaned or displaced because of the earthquake and nuclear meltdown. The group also spent time with some of the many people living in temporary accommodation.
“This temporary housing is located in a very isolated place,” said Yoshi. “The houses are very small and it is hard to keep [one’s] privacy. It looks [like it would be] very hot in summer and very cold in winter. Many of [the people] are living by themselves and are not young.”
The week before the group’s arrival, Yoshi said the people from Namie-cho, a town very close to the Fukushima nuclear plant, were told they would not be able to return to their homes for another five years.
“It is a very hard announcement for them to accept, but they have to accept this realisation,” said Yoshi. “We had no words [to offer them].”
While the Good Samaritan community in Nara, near Kyoto, is located some 600 kilometres away from the worst-affected disaster zones, the Sisters are very conscious of the suffering, hardship and loss experienced by many people there.
As a way of reaching out to the 3-11 survivors, the Sisters have been knitting scarves and other warm items for some time now. During their recent visit to Fukushima, Yoshi and Etsuko were able to hand-deliver scarves and a blanket knitted by Sydney Good Samaritan Sister, Elizabeth Carr.
Another way the Sisters are supporting the survivors is through prayer and awareness-raising. In May this year, Sister Masako Adachi visited Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture, one of the worst-affected areas. While there, she represented the Good Samaritan Sisters at a meeting of all Catholic congregations of religious women in Japan.
“We decided [to be in] solidarity [with] these suffering people [through] chain prayer”, said Masako.
Since July, the 88 Catholic congregations of religious women in Japan have been taking turns, a week at a time, to devote time in pray for the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“Our Good Samaritan Sisters’ charge is from January 13 to 19, 2013,” said Masako.
The community of Good Samaritan Sisters at Nara is encouraging all people of good will to unite with them and their Associates in Japan for a special week of solidarity and prayer from January 13 to 19, 2013, for the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.