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‘Our mission is to promote hope, not despair because they have been forgotten,’ says Archbishop of Japan

Archbishop of Tokyo Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi Interview -Part- I

In an exclusive interview with Radio Veritas Asia, the Archbishop of Tokyo, Japan, Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, stated that no marginalized person should be ignored, which is a fundamental principle of his leadership model as president of Caritas Internationalis.

"The main aim of our work is to create hope, not to create people who are disappointed or in despair because they are forgotten," he said.

He added, "We want to be with the people."

Archbishop Isao, as he is affectionately known, spoke with Kasmir Nema of Radio Veritas Asia about how Caritas is meant to be a professional international NGO that provides professional aid, but that courtesy should be the trait that ensures no one in need is forgotten.

"I decided we shouldn't create people who fear being forgotten. So, for me, the task of Caritas means that providing food, security, shelter, and clothing is important," the archbishop explained, drawing inspiration from his missionary work in Ghana and other experiences. 

Archbishop Isao Kikuchi speaking to Fr Kasmir Nema at an exclusive interview for Radio Veritas Asia.

Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi was born in Iwate on November 1, 1958. Prior to his priestly ordination on March 15, 1986, he professed vows with the Divine Word Missionaries in March 1985.

As a newly ordained young priest, he served as a missionary to Ghana, where he was a parish priest in a rural parish for 8 years.

He has served as Archbishop of Tokyo since his appointment in 2017, before which he had served as the Bishop of Niigata since 2004.

From 1999 to 2004, he served as executive director of Caritas Japan, and from 2007 to 2022, he served as president. 

Moreover, he was president of Caritas Asia from 2011 to 2019, a member of the Caritas Internationalis Executive Committee from 1999 to 2004, and a member of the Representative Council from 2011 to 2019.

He was elected president of Caritas Internationalis in 2023.

The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Tokyo is 97,656. There are 76 parishes. It has 71 Diocesan clergy (including 5 Bishops), 51 men's religious communities, and 138 women's religious communities.

The total number of religious and Missionary Priests is 258 (132 Japanese and 126 foreigners). 54 Japanese and 38 foreign religious Brothers, while Sisters: 1,219 (Japanese: 1,129; Foreign: 90)

In addition, the archdiocese consists of 1 Seminary, 5 Universities, and 7 Other colleges. The Archdiocese operates thirteen secondary and middle schools, one elementary school, and fifty-two preschools. 

The Archdiocese also established five hospitals and dispensaries, 32 nurseries and other facilities for children, as well as residences for the elderly and disabled.

Regarding his priestly vocation and religious life, he responded affirmatively to his father's query about his desire to become a priest.

"So I wanted to be a priest. So I said yes to my father's school. And then I went to the minor seminary, not knowing that it was the minor seminary for the Divine Word Missionaries. But anyway, this is the beginning of my vocation," he said.

When asked about the significance of his missionary experience in Ghana, he defined "Ghanaian magic" as "facing difficulties with a smile."

This ''Ghana Magic'' refers to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people to help each other in times of need and ensure that no one is forgotten. 

"Whenever they face difficulties, somebody will come differently to help them. So that kind of conviction, which somebody will take care of, will create hope. 

He shared what he had learned during his eight-year tenure in Ghana: "If we don't create people who feel forgotten, then we can create hope. If we continue to remember and care for the people, we can instill genuine hope in their hearts.

The first segment of the interview, in which he discusses his vocation, his missionary experience in Ghana, and his qualifications as president of Caritas Internationalis, is available on YouTube:

Read the full transcript of the interview below.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi for RVA Voice of Asian Bishops


RVA Interview with Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo, Japan, by Fr. Kasmir Nema, SVD, from Radio Veritas Asia.

Fr. Kasmir Nema: Hello. I am Father Kasmir Nema, SVD, of Radio Veritas Asia. Welcome to this special program called Conversations with Asian Bishops. It is an honor and blessing to have the Most Reverend Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Japan with us today. He is currently the head of the Bishops Conference of Japan, president of Caritas Internationalis, and secretary general of the FABC Bishops. Welcome.

Archbishop Kikuchi: Thank you.

Fr. Kasmir Nema: Let me start with this question, bishop. Japan is known as a very secular country, and Catholics are a minority. Can you give us a general picture of the Catholic Church in Japan, in particular your diocese of Tokyo?

Archbishop Kikuchi: 

Thank you. You know, as you say, that Christians are a minority in Japan, and the Catholic Church is also a very small community. According to the statistics, we have only half a million Japanese Catholics in Japan. Maybe we'll have another half a million expatriates, Catholics residing in Japan, especially Filipinos. But there is still less than 1% of the population. 

We have a long history dating back to Francis Xavier in 1549. But after maybe 200 years of persecution, they are still struggling to disseminate the gospel of Jesus Christ. My diocese is the biggest out of the 16 dioceses in Japan, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagasaki are the archdioceses, and Tokyo is the biggest. Again, according to the statistics, we are supposed to have 95,000 Japanese Catholics, maybe another 50 or 60,000 expatriate Catholics in Tokyo. So, we're still a small community.

Fr. Kasmir Nema: Speaking of your diocese, Archbishop. can you share with us about your ministries in your diocese that are well-known to the people in your diocese? 

Archbishop Kikuchi:

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. It's the center of the economy, and of course, it's also the center of the tourist industry and the center of politics. So, we have a number of the schools of the highest primary school or kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and also colleges and universities. So, we are very famous for our education. Additionally, a large number of people in Japan—particularly those in higher government positions and all businesses—received their education from Catholic institutions, particularly in Tokyo. Unfortunately, these things don’t connect to the above Baptism as such, but it was to have many sympathizers among the Japanese public. 

Fr. Kasmir Nema: So let's move now to another question about your vocation as a priest and archbishop. Tell us the story. Why did you respond to the gospel?

Archbishop Kikuchi:

My parents work in parishes. I mean, I was born in the northern part of Japan. My father was a catechist in one of the parishes. And my mother was working for the kindergarten and was attached to the parish. And then the parish priest was a Swiss missionary. And I was raised in that parish. Up until primary school time. So, when I was going to the second grade in junior high school, my father was asking me whether I wanted to go to the seminary. 

So, I say yes because I wanted to be a priest because I was living with the priests at the beginning of my life. So, I really wanted to be a priest. So, I said yes to my father's school. And then I went to the minor seminary, not knowing that it was the minor seminary for the divine word of Missionaries. But anyway, at the beginning of my vocation.

Fr. Kasmir Nema: Since then, you have become divine missionaries. And I learned that you had experienced eight years in Ghana. Can you tell us what you learned from your missionary experience in Ghana?

Archbishop Kikuchi:

You see, to begin with, in 1983. I was sent to Chicago to learn the English language for one year. There was someone staying in SVD’s house in Chicago, and my neighbor there was a Ghanaian priest who was studying at the university in Chicago. So he told me about life in Ghana and the wonderful life and experiences of being a missionary there. He successfully persuaded me to travel to Ghana because that was when they would receive their ordination. My neighbor was a bishop. Later, he became the bishop, Bishop Vincent Sowah Boi-Nai, in Ghana. 

But then, when I was taking my final vows, I wrote about my desire to go to Ghana. And then, luckily, I was granted permission to go to Ghana. I was the first SVD Japanese to go to Africa. But not only for the SVDs but also for the Young Japanese priest who goes to Africa. So, there was nobody to ask about previous experiences. But I managed to go to Ghana, and I stayed there for eight years. I was assigned to the bush without any electricity, or water supplies. And I was alone, and for five years without any assistant priests or whatever, I was alone to take care of more than 20 outstations by myself. 

So, it was a challenging situation, but the people were happy. It was 1986. I went to Ghana and at that time the economy was quite down, and people were suffering. Well, the economy, sickness, and all kinds of difficulties are there. But the people are very, very happy, especially when they are coming for the Sunday masses. This will bring so much happiness to the people. So, one day I asked the one with the parishioners, why are you so happy? Because you have so many difficulties. You are in poverty. You're facing, all the sickness difficulties, but you are still smiling. 

And then they told me, oh, Father, we have the Ghana magic. We have Ghanaian magic. So, what is Ghanaian magic? And he told me that Ghana’s magic is not the real magic. But he was joking. He was just joking that he has Ghanaian magic. But what he was telling me is that it is their conviction that even if they face difficulties, somebody will come to help them, and that they will not be forgotten. So that was their conviction that they could support each other. 

So, whenever they face difficulties, somebody will come differently to help them. So that kind of conviction that somebody will take care of, we will really create hope. That is what I learned, actually, in my stay in Ghana for eight years: if we don't create the people who feel that they are forgotten, then we can create hope. If we continue to remember the people, to take care of the people, then we can create real hope from the people's hearts. So that is what they learned in Ghana. 

Fr. Kasmir Nema: Speaking of that, creating hope for the so-to-say marginalized people in Ghana, it seems that your involvement with these poor people has been going on for years already, and you have also been involved in Caritas for the kids. This year. You've been elected president of Caritas International. My question is, as we show what new leadership, spirit, or philosophy you introduced or have been implementing, perhaps in the Office of Caritas Internationalis, what makes it different from the previous leadership?

Archbishop Kikuchi:

It's a difficult question, actually. I don't know what the difference is from the previous leadership, but my own conviction is that in 1995, after I came back from Ghana to Japan, I went to Zaire. At that time, in the city of Bukavu, there was a refugee camp for refugees from Rwanda. There was a genocide in Rwanda, and after the genocide, there was a refugee crisis. So, there were a number of refugees on the Zairian side. 

So, Caritas was taking care of some of the refugee camps there. I was sent around the refugee camp as a volunteer at Caritas Japan. That was the beginning of my engagement with the Caritas there. I met so many people. Then, after some time, I went back to Japan for three months. Then I came back again for one week or ten days of visits. During my visits there, I met the leaders of the refugee camp, spoke with them, and asked them, what do they need? What do they need? Of course, there are so many things missing. They have no food, no clothing, no housing, no education, nothing, and no medication, so they need everything. 

But then, intentionally, I asked them, what do you need? And then one of the leaders told me, Oh, father, if you are going back to Japan, tell the people that we are still here. We are forgotten. The rest of the world has forgotten about us. That's what really struck me. So, taking that in, that really came deep into my heart. So, from that moment on, I really decided that we shouldn't create any people who fear being forgotten. 

So, for me, the task of Caritas Asia means, of course, that providing food, providing security, providing shelter, and providing clothing is important. Of course, providing development projects is important. But the main aim of ‘our work is to create hope, not to create people who are disappointed or in despair because they are forgotten. So, we want to be with the people. That is the first and most important. I think. Of course, we, the Caritas, are supposed to be the professional international NGO to provide professional assistance, but at the same time, the courtesy should be the one who will not forget anybody in difficulties. 



Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.