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A saint for Nagasaki?

Takashi Nagai may end up as Japan’s first modern saint. He already has been designated a Servant of God. Many people inside and outside Japan are convinced he will be canonized. His story was brought to English-speaking readers by a Marist priest from Australia, Paul Glynn, in A Song for Nagasaki, originally published in 1988 and reprinted by Ignatius Press in 2009. Nagai’s story will reach a wider audience when a movie, now in production, is released this summer. Titled All That Remains, it is being made by brothers Ian and Dominic Higgins. This will be their third feature film, after The 13th Day and Finding Fatima.

Nagai was born in 1908 and converted to Catholicism when he was 26, chiefly under the influence of his future wife’s family. He came to know Maximilian Kolbe before the war, when the Polish priest was stationed in Japan. Nagai was a physician and a researcher in the field of radiology, a field so new and dangerous that he eventually contracted leukemia from his work. He was on duty at the Nagasaki Medical College Hospital when, on August 9, 1945, the atomic bombed destroyed the city. When he made his way back to his home, he found only ruins and the bones of his wife, who had been clutching a rosary. (Their children already had been sent out of town.)

The radiation from the bomb exacerbated his leukemia, and Nagai soon was incapable of working, but he could pray and write. He spent the postwar years in a tiny hut constructed on the ruins of his home. It was his hermitage. Among the books he produced there before his death in 1951 was The Bells of Nagasaki.

 

Catholic Family News, from its title, sounds as though it should provide news about Catholic families, but its chief purpose seems to be to kvetch about the Church. It is one of those arch-Traditionalist publications staffed by writers who aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. That adjective describes much of the argumentation found in the paper’s pages. In its February issue, for example, appeared an interview with Fr. Cyprian (no surname given), the prior of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery, which is described as “a traditional Benedictine foundation” located in Silver City, New Mexico. (It has no connection with the local diocese but is associated with the SSPX.)

The interviewer asked Fr. Cyprian about his community’s “position” on Benedict XVI. (The interview was conducted, of course, while Benedict was still pope.) Fr. Cyprian replied that Benedict “is a sincere and devout modernist. . . . People ask, are we with the Pope as Catholics, yes, everyone is ‘with the Pope.’ But with his modernism, with his errors, and with the resulting confusion, no, we are certainly not ‘with’ these aspects of the present pontificate. . . . Can we be ‘with the Pope’ without being with his errors? It seems impossible.”

Fr. Cyprian was asked next about sedevacantism: Has there been any consideration of it by his community? He gave an evasive answer, saying his monks don’t obey the Pope when they think he is wrong and they are right—which seems to be much of the time. He complained that sedevacantism “arrogates to itself a secret knowledge reserved to the few, they alone know the true and deeper nature of the crisis, and they alone will be saved,” implying that his monks reject the sedevacantist thesis—but for how long?

Prediction: Soon enough Fr. Cyprian and his monks will discover that Benedict’s successor is likewise a “devout modernist,” they will throw up their hands in despair, and they will realize there hasn’t been a real pope for decades.

 

I have a special interest in Japan, since my wife comes from Kyoto and our son and his family live in Yokohama. The future of Japan is not bright—not because of decades-long economic stagnation or recent territorial disputes with South Korea and China. The big problem is demographics. Japan’s population is 128 million. It never will be higher—at least not for a few centuries, if current trends continue. Starting this year the country’s population will drop, slowly at first and then precipitously. By the end of the century the population is expected to be around 48 million, a loss of more than 60 percent.

Let me personalize what this means. My son just purchased his first home. His plan is to sell it in ten years at no loss. That may not be possible, even though it is well situated in a desirable part of town. Let’s say that, a decade from now, Japan’s population is down to 120 million. The “missing” eight million might be accounted for in a depopulating countryside; perhaps the big cities such as Yokohama will have held their own. Nevertheless, there will be a general softness in the housing market. Almost certainly real estate prices won’t have risen. My son might get back his investment—but barely.

What about the following decade? Japan will lose a greater number of people. The population might drop to 108 million, which is 20 million fewer people than today. Houses will stand empty, as will office buildings and factories. The country will begin to look like a clean and safe version of Detroit. A decade later, with a population perhaps around 95 million, it may not look so clean (and it may not be so safe), unless there has been a massive government-funded deconstruction program through which old buildings are cleared away for park land or farms.

Japan’s fertility rate is 1.4 children per woman. This is two-thirds of the replacement level of 2.1. The country is facing a crisis that isn’t sufficiently explained by saying there are too few workers for each retiree. The crisis is that there are too few people, period. It is a crisis that Western countries are entering somewhat later and somewhat less drastically than Japan, but their story will be similar. Every down escalator leads in the same direction.

 

The ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church isn’t universal in a reductionist way. When Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued in 1994, definitively teaching that women cannot be ordained, it was followed by a responsum ad dubium, approved by John Paul II, that affirmed that, while Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not itself an infallible document, it repeated what already was infallible teaching. Why was that teaching already infallible? Because it had been taught by the “ordinary and universal Magisterium” of the Church and was “to be held definitively, as belonging to the deposit of faith”—that is, the Church always had taught (and acted as though) the ordination of women was not possible, and that was that.

But not for the National Catholic Reporter, which claimed a few months ago that this teaching really wasn’t proclaimed “by the ordinary and universal Magisterium . . . because at the time there were many bishops around the world who had serious reservations about the teaching, though few voiced them in public.” How can a teaching be taught universally by the Magisterium if even one bishop dissents from it?

The Reporter operated under a basic confusion. It thought that universal was a synonym for unanimous in an absolute, mathematical sense. This never has been the way the Church has understood the term. Instead, what is meant by “universal” is a moral unanimity, the constant teaching of bishops throughout history and throughout the world (thus “universal”), even if a few bishops can be found who weren’t on script.

 

You probably know that the average American grotesquely overestimates the percentage of the population that is homosexual. Something similar happens when he guesses the spread of religious opinions. A recent survey by Grey Matter Research asked respondents to estimate how many Americans are affiliated with various religions. The only guess that was close—in fact, right on—was about Catholics. Respondents guessed that Catholics are 24 percent of the population, and that’s right. But they thought that Protestants are only 20 percent of the population, when they actually are 51 percent. Muslims were guessed at 7 percent, though they come in at under 1 percent. Jews were guessed to be 9 percent, when the real number is 2 percent. Mormons have similar numbers: 7 percent guessed but 2 percent in reality. Respondents also guessed wrong on self-described atheists and agnostics, who were thought to be 9 percent of the population but actually are only 4 percent. 

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