Prayers lifted up for the people of Japan

By Patrick Butler | Correspondent
Sunday, April 24, 2011

Asian Catholic prayers and Eastern Orthodox hymns were interspersed with a Shinto memorial ceremony and Buddhist incense offering during an April 16 interfaith ceremony remembering the victims and survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The service was held at St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church, 218 W, Alexander St.

Akiko Turhanogullari, a Japanese Muslim from Arlington Heights, spoke of her family’s continued concern for relatives back home, while Masafumi Nakata of the archdiocese’s Japanese Catholic Ministry reminded the 100 or so in attendence that while “our own hearts are heavy, we are now in union with our struggling brothers and sisters in their darkness,” in the hope “the Divine hears our cries through our various traditions.”

“Faith persists in the direst of circumstances,” said Stephen Pitts, a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University.

“Let us raise our voices in prayer for the victims of the March 11 tsunami,” urged Father Francis Li, pastor of St. Therese.

According to Li, the St. Therese building was originally named St. Maria Incoronata Church with a predominately Italian congregation and converted to a Chinese mission in 1962. While the traditional Italian décor remains, two banners written in Chinese flank the altar — one reading “We are one Catholic family,” Li said.

But it wasn’t just Japanese who turned out. Friends brought friends. Dominican Sister Joan McGuire, who read Psalm 27 and heads the archdiocesan Office of Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs, invited Asayo Horibe, president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest.

“Sister Joan and I have been doing Catholic/Buddhist dialogues for quite awhile,” he said.

Ethel Martinez was invited by Teresita Nuval of the archdiocesan Office for Asian Catholics.

In a letter read by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, Cardinal George said “We can empathize with the tremendous suffering of the Japanese people, while at the same time we can note with great respect and admiration the fortitude, dignity and generosity of spirit that they have shown in the midst of an almost unimaginable catastrophe.”

In his homily, Bishop Kane noted that prayer “fills a great need for those of us who have watched in frustration as the people of Japan face one of the great disasters of our lifetime.

“In a sense, the whole world suffers the aftershocks of that Japanese tragedy. They have faced this catastrophe with dignity and determination. Rescue workers just have not given up. The story of people who continue to expose themselves to dangerous levels of radiation at great personal peril to bring those damaged nuclear plants under control is the story of great personal bravery in a world that is often overwhelmed by selfishness, rugged individualism and survival of the fittest. Their sense of community, the sense of the common good, is an example to us all,” Kane said.

“Let us be sure that the memory of that tragedy will not fade with the waning news stories,” he added.

By all accounts it hasn’t, said Adrienne Curry, Catholic Relief Services director for the archdiocese, who said local Catholics have so far raised about $100,000 for the Japanese tsunami victims.

Help will probably be needed for quite some time, relief organizers say, noting that the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, said to be the worst single natural disaster on record, killed at least 13,778, injured 4,916 and left another 14,175 missing.

At least 125,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and 4.4 million households were left without electricity and 1.5 million with no water. Damages are estimated at between $122 and $230 billion.