Faiths join hands in mourning

Faiths gather together to remember the dead, and to help those who have lost all

A memorial service for the disaster victims

TOKYO (majirox news) — The country paused in sadness on March 11 to mark the first anniversary of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that claimed nearly 19,000 lives and triggered a continuing reconstruction crisis.

The government held a memorial service at the National Theater in Tokyo, Emperor Akihito, who is 78 and recovering from heart surgery, and Empress Michiko joined Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and many other dignitaries at the service.

Live feeds connected this service with memorial ceremonies in three northeastern costal prefectures devastated by the disaster. At 2:46 p.m., the time the quake struck, participants at the service linked hands in a minute’s silence with the sound of sirens in the background.

The survivors of the small rural towns along the coast destroyed by the tsunami held their own ceremonies, and in other towns, families left flowers in memory of their loved ones who perished in the tsunami.

As of March 10, the Japanese National Police Agency confirmed 15,854 deaths and 3,155 people missing. The quake and tsunami heavily damaged the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing radiation leakage. Some 80,000 were displaced due to radiation contamination, with one-quarter still in temporary housing. It is doubtful whether the “nuclear refugees” will be able to return to their homes in the next few years, or even decades.

In total, some 340,000 people are still living in temporary housing in northeaster Japan, where once-busy seaside towns are now cleared, barren lots. However, millions of tons of rubble still awaits disposal and regions around the country are blocking the transportation of waste to their areas, in some cases due to radiation fears.

As Prime Minister Noda reminded the Japanese people that their predecessors “have repeatedly risen from crises,” in his speech at the memorial ceremony, faith communities throughout the country remembered the victims through prayer and acts of worship.

Among the many faith responses, The Association of Shinto Shrines issued a suggested prayer to be read during memorial ceremonies that described the disaster, pleaded that there be now more disaster and asked that people live peacefully.

A Christian ecumenical service of prayer and remembrance for the victims was held at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo on Sunday, with participants including the Franciscan Chapel Center, St. Paul International Lutheran Church, West Tokyo Union Church and St. Jude Ukrainian Orthodox Mission.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate read a prayer for Japan written by His Holiness Patriarch Filaret to be used in all its churches around the world, marking the common bond of experiencing nuclear disasters (Chernobyl and Fukushima) that links the Ukraine and Japan.

“It was a great honor to be allowed to participate in Sunday’s ecumenical service,” said Rev. Paul Koroluk of St. Jude Ukrainian Orthodox Mission in Tokyo. “It is unfortunate that it takes a great tragedy such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami to break down barriers that we have created between us, but yesterday I was given hope that the Holy Spirit will continue to work through our hearts that may lead to a common future.”

One of the Japanese attendees wrote on the event’s Facebook page to thank the Church for praying for Japan and staying in the country. “I thank the Church from the bottom of my heart,” she wrote.

Cindy Mullins, an American literary agent and publisher living in Tokyo, attended a service at Tokyo’s St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and commented, “We all came together to mourn as one people.”

Rev. Shotoku Ishikawa conducted a Buddhist memorial ceremony at the Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple in Tokyo, the fifth held by the temple since the disaster.

“Our slogan is ‘holding the grief close and sharing it together.’ This is what the Buddhist priests of Tsukiji Honganji Temples learned from the disaster through various volunteer activities,” Ishikawa said.

The temple was used as a headquarters for emergency disaster control and sent some Buddhist priests to the Tohoku area as volunteers to take food and water.

Attending the memorial ceremony were some victims, some with connections to the stricken areas in Tohoku, and others with no connection with the area. Ishikawa pointed out the commonality – everyone wanted to share the grief and suffering.

After the earthquake last year the temple opened its doors for people who were unable to return home. “About 600 people used our temple to spend the night,” said Ishikawa. “We offered food, and spaces to rest and sleep. We made cell phone chargers available, so people could contact their families or use Internet.”

He added the temple later collected donations and held fundraising events.

“But there are limits as to how much support I can actually offer victims, but I am going to support the victims as much as I can, even if it is indirectly,” Ishikawa said. “I do what I can do for the victims as a Buddhist priest,” and adds that from the various volunteers and the acts of kindness he learned the grief was being shouldered by many. It helps us reflect how we are all interrelated, he concludes.

The purpose of these ceremonies was to not to forget the victims of the disasters, but Japan’s travails are not over yet. There remain many other issues to be addressed. These include the tons of rubble left behind, the decontamination of radioactive material, displaced people who will require better housing, compensation for victims of the nuclear disaster, and reactions to the disaster itself, including making the nuclear plant safer.

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