The Catholic relief agency Caritas Japan has begun working to help untold numbers of people rebuild their lives, amid the devastation and continuing effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Nearly 2,000 people have already been confirmed dead as of March 14, victims of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting 30 foot waves. Authorities are expecting the death toll to rise beyond 10,000.
The disaster also destabilized several nuclear power plants, one of which may have undergone a partial meltdown.
Caritas Japan is conducting a national donation campaign to provide aid to victims, particularly in the hardest-hit dioceses of Sapporo, Sendai, Saitama and Tokyo. Relief workers are still trying to establish contact with many areas where residents are lacking electricity, water, and sufficient food.
In the Diocese of Sendai, which experienced the worst damage, one priest has been confirmed dead and other clergy and faithful are still missing. Some parishes were able to celebrate Sunday Mass on March 13, but others could not. Parishes in Tokyo and Saitama are providing shelter and food, and registering volunteers to help the victims.
Because the Japanese government and army have responded quickly to the emergency, Caritas Japan is concentrating its efforts on helping individuals and families whose lives were impacted or even shattered by the earthquake and tsunami.
Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, president of Caritas Japan, said that many homeless and grieving individuals and families will need extensive support.
“The devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami induced not only physical damages, but also mental ones,” he noted. “We will accompany people who lost their loved ones – people who lost everything, who may be staying at temporary shelters, and who have no one to rely on.”
Bishop Kikuchi said he was grateful to all those who were beginning to help the victims with their prayers and charitable contributions. “We are very grateful for this solidarity. We believe that aid activity is needed, but prayer is also important in such a situation.”
Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai said residents of his devastated diocese were “exhausted and disoriented,” and “not yet able to comprehend the enormity of the disaster.”
“It is difficult to say what can be done to help,” he told Fides news agency. “We still do not know how many people have died, how many have been displaced and how many are missing.”
There were just over 10,000 Catholics in Sendai before the earthquake and tsunami, and it is unknown how many will be left in the aftermath. Nevertheless, Bishop Hiraga said the survivors “will do everything possible to bring relief – to testify, at this time of suffering, to the message of Christ's love.”
“Today,” said the bishop, “this is our specific mission: to help the nation to raise its eyes to Heaven, and to keep alive the flame of hope.”