His Holiness, Pope Francis
November 20, 2019
It is with profound anticipation that I
contemplate Your Holiness’ upcoming visit to Japan.
The visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II
to Japan in 1981 made a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the
Japanese people. I still remember how pleased and grateful we felt when His
Holiness visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and met with our Emperor Showa.
1. Photograph of a Japanese boy at a crematorium inspires prayer for peace
I welcome Your Holiness’ visit to Japan for
reasons that are very special to me.
Last year, on New Year’s Day, an occasion of
great significance to the Japanese people, Your Holiness directed Roman
Catholics everywhere to circulate a photograph of a young Japanese boy, taken
by an American soldier soon after an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
The photograph shows a boy standing in
front of a crematorium; his younger brother, killed in the bombing, is strapped
to his back. The older boy is trying mightily to stifle his grief, biting his
lips so hard he draws blood. His intrepidness and his brave determination to
fulfill his familial duty toward his little brother touched the very souls of
the Japanese, the citizens of the only nation to fall victim to atomic bombs.
Seventy-four years have elapsed since the
atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. During those yours we have joined together,
as a nation, and endeavored to bear up under unspeakable suffering. We have
transcended the feelings of hostility that led to war, and made every effort
possible toward the achievement of world peace. The courage of the boy in the
photograph, who stares unflinchingly at the future, resonates with people all
over the world who even today grapple with hardship and struggle to overcome
As we contemplate this photograph, the
people of Japan would like to express our appreciation for the compassion and
prayer for peace that motivated Your Holiness to recommend its dissemination.
To Your Holiness we offer our most sincere respect and gratitude. As an
educator, I too embrace Your Holiness’ noble sentiments, and vow to communicate
the message of this photograph to the coming generations. I am confident that
Your Holiness’ visit to Japan will be remembered as a new, first step on the
journey to world peace.
2. Our trust in Sophia University
Among Japan’s universities, Sophia
University has a special connection with the Vatican.
Sophia University was established in 1913
as a foundation for the cultivation of the Roman Catholic spirit. The Jochi in its Japanese name (Jochi Daigaku) means “divine wisdom.”
The list of this institute of higher learning’s achievements has grown steadily
as it sends countless talented men and women out into Japan and the entire
world, thanks to the strenuous efforts of its faculty and guidance from the
Thirty-eight years ago His Holiness Pope
John Paul II expressed a desire to visit Sophia University, perhaps in
anticipation of new accomplishments. A highlight of that visit was a lecture
delivered by His Holiness.
Looking back at the history of Sophia
University, I realize that its progress is closely connected with matters of
concern and interest to the Japanese people.
In 1932 there was an incident involving 60
Sophia University students at Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto shrine that honors the
war dead. Three of their number refused to pay their respects, stating that they
were exercising their right to freedom of religion. When university authorities
consulted the Ministry of Education, they were told that pilgrimages to
Yasukuni Shrine are opportunities for the Japanese people to demonstrate their
patriotism, and that doing so in no way infringes upon freedom of religion. In
fact, the pilgrimages are in keeping with guidelines from the Vatican
concerning the duties of Roman Catholics to their native lands.
After Japan’s defeat in World War II, GHQ
(General Headquarters) of the SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers),
the forces temporarily occupying Japan, proposed that Yasukuni Shrine be burned
to the ground and replaced by a racetrack. Even within SCAP there was
disagreement about this proposal.
General Douglas MacArthur, then the supreme
commander, consulted with the Reverend Bruno Bitter, president of Sophia
University and representative of the Roman Curia. Father Bitter told MacArthur
he vehemently opposed the destruction of Yasukuni Shrine because it is the
right and duty of citizens everywhere to honor their war dead, adding that that
right belonged equally to the citizens of victorious and defeated nations.
The Japanese people have embraced this incident,
which has become one of the reasons for their respect for Sophia University.
When the Vietnam War broke out it was
Father Joseph Pittau, rector of Sophia University, who became well known in
Japan for being one of the first to extend a helping hand to refugees. Father
Pittau was subsequently called back to Rome, where he served as rector of the
Gregorian University. He had great affection for Japan, to which he returned after
retiring; he entered the Kingdom of Heaven at age 75.
In 1968 campus strife erupted all over the
world. Japan’s universities, even Sophia University, were no exceptions. Many universities
were struggling to resolve disputes. Sophia University closed for six months. The
school’s survival hinged on restoring order on its campus, which was
accomplished through the use of a combination of decisive tactics; these became
known as the “Sophia model,” and were emulated by other universities in Japan to
resolve similar problems.
3. Plea for directives to Sophia University
history Sophia University has proven itself to be a font of wisdom, and
therefore has earned the respect and affection of the Japanese people.
Unfortunately, a dark cloud is now hanging over this institution, and though it
pains me to do so, I feel compelled to describe it to Your Holiness.
Recently it was
discovered that a master’s thesis submitted by a graduate student was the
product of plagiarism. The student’s thesis was rejected and his degree
rescinded. The head of the Student Center resigned after making an
inappropriate statement. At least one faculty member was discharged for
disciplinary reasons. These incidents were disclosed publicly in the form of
the university’s Message from the President.
I must mention
another, deplorable incident that occurred recently at Sophia University,
which, like all universities, must be a center for the quest for truth. I am
one of the victims of that incident.
Three years ago an American
graduate student under the supervision of Sophia University Professor Nakano
Koichi announced his intention to produce a documentary film to satisfy the
requirements for a master’s degree. The graduate student then proceeded to
request interviews with 10 commentators and scholars who support the Japanese
government’s stance on a particular issue.
In a letter he wrote
requesting an interview, the graduate student promised that since the intent of
his project was academic research, it would in no way resemble biased
journalism. He even stated that as a graduate student, he had a moral
obligation to portray those interviewed fairly and respectfully. The student
added that the interviews were intended to maintain fairness and neutrality,
and that he would be submitting the film to Sophia University as a graduation
Everyone who was
interviewed respected and trusted Sophia University, rooted as it was in the Catholic
spirit. Everyone who was interviewed believed the promises made by the graduate
student. One of them, a female journalist, even went to the trouble of encouraging
the student via email.
But the aforementioned promises the
graduate student made orally and via email were no more than part of a
nefarious plot intended to convince people whose opinion differs from that of
the producer (who disdains their opinions) to agree to be interviewed. The
finished product bears absolutely no resemblance to academic research; it is a
one-sided propaganda film. Those who disagree with the professor (and graduate
student) are labeled as villains. Their remarks are quoted out of context and
censured without their being granted an opportunity for rebuttal, their
characters are vilified, and they are ridiculed.
This fraudulent film was made in the
(false) name of “academic research” and traded on Sophia University’s fine
reputation. Moreover, it is now being shown as a commercial film in ordinary
cinemas, without the permission of those who were interviewed. One of the
people attacked in this film is a woman who graduated from Sophia University.
The film continues to be shown in Japan and abroad as well.
In a free, healthy society, there are many
political perspectives. Any kind of film is permissible as long as it does not
violate public order and morals. At issue here is not which point of view is
correct. In academia there is an ironclad moral rule that prohibits the denigration
of and injury to those who have contributed to a research project. It is the
researcher’s solemn duty to prevent such eventualities. The reason why so many
people willingly make sacrifices of varying degree to assist with research
efforts is their conviction that scholarship energizes societies, encourages
the improvement of cultures, and does not libel others.
If a professor like the one described above
commits acts that betray that trust, but in spite of that, is not held
responsible for those acts, no one will risk cooperating with academic research.
A situation like this signifies the collapse of the foundation upon which
learning stands. For that very reason, it is vital to protect the reputations
and human rights of all those who collaborate or cooperate with researchers.
That Sophia University has been the site of
such an improper scheme is a great disappointment to earnest faculty members,
students, and alumni. Behind this behavior that excuses trickery are
self-righteous notions of the same origin as communism, one of the tenets of which
is that any means may be used to rationalize a political objective, such as the
brutal suppression of religion.
As one of the victims of this swindle and a
concerned Japanese, I appeal to Your Holiness: For the sake of Sophia
University, for the Catholic spirit (which signifies the universal truth), and
for the sake of academic research in Japan, I beseech Your Holiness to
investigate the current state of Sophia University, and instruct its leaders as
Your Holiness sees fit. Please assist in the rehabilitation of the university, so
that it is once again a wholesome institute of learning.
With every good wish to Your Holiness for a
peaceful, fruitful journey,
Ex-Professor of Education at The Tokyo University