TOKYO (SE): The newly appointed archbishop of Tokyo is to be a man with an international profile and vast experience of living and working in a foreign culture, as well as involvement in the social challenges that face both his own country and the whole of Asia.
As president of Caritas Japan and Asia, as well as a member of the International Committee of Caritas, the choice of the current bishop of Niigata, Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi SVD, as the archbishop-elect of the biggest diocese in the country, the national capital, which embraces Chiba prefecture as well as the designated metropolitan area of Tokyo, is a standout one.
Bishop Kikuchi’s experience in other lands began shortly after his ordination as a priest of the Society of the Divine Word in 1986, when he ventured to Ghana in Africa, which makes him an exceptional bishop in the Land of the Rising Sun.
His experience in facing the arduous, but exciting task of learning a language, familiarising himself with a foreign culture to the extent of feeling comfortable within it and expressing the faith in the signs, symbols and words of his adopted land is what is called for in a Church increasingly comprised of immigrants.
But in inheriting an archdiocese with an official Catholic population of some 97,000, Bishop Kikuchi knows that is far from the real story.
The number non-Japanese Catholics living within the ecclesial bounds is not really known, as they are not documented.
But what the archbishop-elect can have an idea about is the ever increasing number of non-Japanese faces in the pews at Sunday Masses.
It is little wonder that he has described his vision as bringing unity to Tokyo, which he described as a city full of diversity and a mix of cultures.
But on top of that he is relishing the challenge of bringing a missionary spirit to the Christian community in Tokyo, as it has a far greater mixture of peoples than the general population, although representing only a small fraction of one per cent of the total number of people in the country.
However, Bishop Kikuchi knows only too well that the general dynamic operating in Japanese society tends to exclude rather than include, which he describes as a general feeling of closing out foreign influences.
He also notes that this tendency is becoming stronger rather than diminishing and this, not only in Japan, but in the whole world as well.
His deliberate choice of Unity in Diversity as his episcopal motto says much about the type of leader Bishop Kikuchi intends to become in the big city.
Born in Miyako City, Iwate, in 1958, his hometown was one of the places struck by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A man always conscious of the need to care for the environment, he is a staunch advocate of the role all Christians have in its protection and development, as well as the proper allocation of resources on an equal level.
In a commentary on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’), he wrote that we must act to protect the lives of future generations and be vigilant in preventing environmental degradation.
Bishop Kikuchi has also expressed strong views in support of dialogue with North Korea, calling it a diplomatic crisis that must be approached on a diplomatic level.
He also supports dialogue as being the only solution to peaceful coexistence in Asia and has accused what he calls the new political leaders of exploiting confrontation for their own political ends.
A former provincial of the Society of the Divine Word in Japan, he was named as the bishop of Niigata on 14 May 2004, he has also served as the apostolic administrator of Sapporo from 2009 to 2013 and has been a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples since 2014.
Bishop Kikuchi is replacing Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada, who has been in office since 2000 and is about to retire.