Among the disaster victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011

More than a month has passed since the terrible earthquake, with the tsunami and the accident which happened at the nuclear reactor. With Nozomi and I arrived in the north of Japan two weeks ago, in the region which was struck by this terrible catastrophe. Every day we still have several tremors (last Friday there was a strong one, which once more caused the electricity to be cut off for half a day), but progressively we have become accustomed to these tremors which do not disturb us much.


We have also become accustomed to seeing this vast field of ruins studded with twisted cars, logs of wood and boats in incredible positions, extending right and left from the hill on which Ofunato church is built. What has happened to the people who lived here? Many managed to escape by climbing higher and they now live in refuges or with family and friends.

We have been able to visit two shelters in Ofunato and in the neighbouring town of Takada, which is also within our parish's territory. They have been set up in schools whose classrooms have been changed into nurseries, first aid centres or information centres. School halls have become dormitories for a hundred people where each family is separated by cardboard boxes. There are lots of other little shelters set up in Centres or in Temples. Even though food and the bare essentials are not in short supply, this life, without any privacy, must be difficult to endure.
Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to go with a group of scouts from Tokyo who had prepared curry and rice for 200 people. I must admit that I was too timid or too discreet to speak with the victims who live in this shelter. I would have liked to ask them about their needs, their plans for the future, their dreams, but I didn’t dare.
Sometimes I wonder about all these people (more than 500) who have died or disappeared in this little town of Ofunato alone (with a population of 35,000). In Takada (25,000 inhabitants) the number of dead or disappeared is about 2,300!
I wonder about those who cry and about those who cannot accept that relatives have disappeared and are not coming back. We have not witnessed great outpourings of grief: they are rare in Japan, but one can sometimes see tired and sad faces.
Nozomi prepares our meals and generally goes shopping once a day on his bike. That takes him an hour or two and gives him the opportunity to mix with people. The other day, an old man, who was having a little rest, offered him a cigarette, and he was happy to speak with someone. Now he also sees women who openly express their joy at meeting a friend for the first time since the earthquake.
With Nozomi looking after the house, I am freer to lend a hand as a volunteer to help with the clearing up. We worked with a young man from the district who had the good idea of attaching all the photos that people find and bring him to a noticeboard opposite his house. Since then, I go to see him each time we find a family photograph among the debris that we remove around the church, not knowing if the people that we can see on the photograph are still alive. He has told me that many people who are looking for loved ones come to see the noticeboard. Nozomi and Ludo in OfunatoNozomi and Ludo in Ofunato

In our district, there are no longer any street lights and yesterday we had a visitor who had seen the little cross lit up above our chapel, which shines like a star in the night. He had been strangely attracted by it, more than he knew, and even though he himself was a Buddhist, there were some Christians among his ancestors who had been persecuted in the 17th and 18th centuries.
We are lucky to have, in spite of being few in number, Christians who are courageous and committed in this parish. We have 95 registered Christians, 25 of whom are women from the Philippines who are married to Japanese men. NozomiNozomi Nozomi does his best to be a good temporary priest for all these people. The bishop has asked him to stay at least until the end of June. In the face of all the suffering and the mountains of rubble, our presence, we hope, is at least a little sign. In a certain way, we are privileged to be able to celebrate the mystery of the Passion and the Resurrection with them. LudoLudo
Just a word on the nuclear power station. We are not (yet) directly affected by the accident. You probably know as much as us from watching television. It is very serious, and words which are heard often are, "It's never been seen before !" and "We don't understand it yet!" Yesterday they told us that it would take at least ten years to dismantle the reactors. We hope and pray that the worst will not happen, and also for the people who work there endangering their lives to get things back under control.