Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Keeping an Eye on the Vatican's Moves Under the New Pope
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

April 24, 2013
Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, has ascended to the top seat at the Vatican. This marked the first time in history that a Pope was chosen from a country outside Europe. Catholicism is alive and well in Central and South America, with large populations of devout churchgoers. Thus the arrival of an Argentine Pope has been received by some as a natural course of events. Yet the single fact that the region lay at the farthest end of the Catholic world as late as the 15th and 16th centuries is enough to make us realize the historic magnitude of this event.

After Columbus arrived on the shores of the New World, the Catholic Church expanded its sphere of influence by vanquishing such indigenous civilizations as the Maya and Inca. Because of this, Catholicism in Central and South America has remained under the powerful influence of native religions, retaining a multicultural foundation unlike its counterpart in Europe. The Vatican's latest "departure" from Europe could introduce greater flexibility and tolerance to the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, the new Pope will inevitably attract people's attention to the "South." In the global context of an affluent "North" and an impoverished "South," it is symbolic that Pope Francis has expressed his hope of creating "a Church for the poor," and serving " the poorest, the weakest, the least important."

The Japanese tend to view the Vatican solely from a religious perspective. We should also recognize that backed by its moral authority and intellectual influence, the Vatican has begun to exert a presence that more closely resembles a non-governmental organization (NGO) rather than a nation. That makes it the world's largest NGO with one billion believers spread around the globe.

The Pope actively comments on global issues such as human rights, pacifism, nuclear disarmament and environmental protection, and warns against the excesses of competitive principles and market economics, which national governments – especially those with large Catholic constituencies - cannot simply ignore. Incidentally, in his comments in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, touched on mankind's excessive faith in science with the nuclear accident in mind, and urged people to remember the disaster victims.

I am watching with particular interest how the Vatican's relationship with China will pan out under this new Pope. For years now the two sides have been holding negotiations behind the scenes on establishing formal relations that have repeatedly run aground. The greatest obstacle lies in China's reluctance to hand over the right to appoint priests. At the same time, there may be apprehension on China's part about the possible maneuverings of the Catholic Church once a relationship is established.

It is clear from Africa's example that Catholic priests and believers, along with organizations associated with the Church, have penetrated every corner of the continent in devoted pursuit of their activities. These include reducing poverty, supporting orphans, providing educational opportunities for children, protecting the natural environment and preventing desertification. It isn't difficult to imagine the same thing happening in China, once a relationship is established. Dedicated activities based on Christian principles represent a risk for a country founded on communist ideology. Moreover, led on by the dedicated actions of the faithful, domestic discontent may take an unwanted turn that could pose a threat to the Chinese government. We should keep our eyes on the Vatican as an actor on the international political stage with a role that transcends the limits of a particular faith.

Megumi Nishikawa is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2013年 4月 24日

西川 恵    ジャーナリスト









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Keeping an Eye on the Vatican's Moves Under the New Pope