By Robin Gomes
“There are many internally displaced persons in Japan today,” noted Bishop Michiaki Yamanouchi of Saitama, president of the Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants and People on the Move. He made the comment in a message posted on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ), for the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated on September 27.
Reflecting Pope’s message
“Forced like Jesus Christ to flee” is the theme that Pope Francis has chosen for the 106th edition of the observance this year. In a message for the occasion, the Holy Father calls for attention and new policies for the world’s growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and embraces all who are suffering precariousness, abandonment, marginalization and rejection as a result of Covid-19.
Bishop Yamanouchi’s message on behalf of the Japanese bishops is entitled, “Accept, protect, encourage, and live in harmony with internally displaced persons, like Jesus Christ, who cannot help but flee.”
The Japanese bishops pointed out IDPs in Japan are those who have lost or fled their homes for various reasons. Some are undocumented and have been detained in immigration facilities for long periods. Some have been provisionally released but are homeless, while others are forced to live on the streets.
In Japan, there are also the so-called net cafe refugees or the cyber-homeless, a class of homeless people who sleep in 24-hour internet or manga cafes. Although these places originally provided only internet services, some have expanded their services to include food, drink, and showers.
Ogata – a model
As a model of how to treat IDPs, Bishop Yamanouchi pointed to the figure of Sadako Ogata of Japan, the first woman to be named the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the first Japanese national to hold that position. During her tenure of office from 1991 to 2000, she highlighted the reality of IDPs in the world.
During the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, Ogata went beyond the established limits and helped the almost two million Kurds, a mix of refugees and internally displaced persons in Iraq. “This was the moment when the light shone on the IDPs,” the Japanese bishops pointed out.
Discovering Christ’s face in IDPs
“I believe that the Pope is calling us to look at the realities of our society and to go beyond our narrow points of view,” concluded the bishops’ message, inviting the Japanese people to discover the face of Christ in the faces of refugees, migrants and displaced persons who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, homeless and in prison.
Origins World Day of Migrants and Refugees
The United Nations also commemorates migrants and refugees, but separately on different days. Instituted in December 2000, International Migrants is observed on December 18. World Refugee Day was first celebrated on June 20, 2000, after the UN General Assembly instituted it in December 2000.
On the other hand, the origins of the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees goes back much further to 1914, a few months before World War I. Moved by the drama of millions of Italians who migrated abroad since the start of the 20th century, Pope Pius called on all Christians to pray for migrants.
A few months later, his successor Pope Benedict XV instituted the Day of the Migrant to support spiritually and economically the pastoral work for Italian emigrants. Today, the Vatican has a special Section on Migrants and Refugees.