Bob McKeon

September 19, 2011

Each year, the Catholic Church in Japan observes the days from Aug. 6 to 15 as an annual celebration of Ten Days for Peace marking the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Second World War.

Because of their experience of the horrors of nuclear warfare, the Japanese Church sees this time as a special time to call for prayers and actions for peace. The celebration this year was coloured by the overwhelming experience of the disastrous March 11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Bishop Ikenaga, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, said: "The power of the gigantic earthquake and tsunami was so huge that the preparation for the disaster, which had been thought perfect, was useless. . . . We must review (our) previous lives and seek a lifestyle that will help us to become humble before all the creations of God."

Bishop Paul Otsuka of the Kyoto diocese goes further in his pastoral letter. He says Japan, having experienced attack by atomic weapons, "now stands in danger of being fundamentally damaged because of atomic power generation."


He calls for his fellow citizens "to discern whether atomic energy, which threatens mankind and the environment, comes within the acceptable limits of our use of science and technology."

In an interview last month in the National Catholic Reporter, Otsuka said we in modern society "are addicted to energy, it's like a drug. . . . From the point of view of the evangelical life, the modern world has to stop to take this chance to seriously consider our use of energy."

He is fully aware that 30 per cent of power generation in Japan comes from nuclear facilities. His answer is logical and direct: "We have to consider a simple lifestyle. . . . We have to completely change how we think how we use and produce energy. A new type of lifestyle is possible."

Ikenaga and Otsuka avoid getting confined within the necessary but narrow conversations of engineers, economists and politicians, and reframe the conversation in the terms of a "God's eye" big picture view. The Catholic bishops of Alberta in their 2009 statement on nuclear energy, while using less dramatic language, gave a similar message.

We in North America are faced with a challenge of a similar magnitude relating to energy production.

Over the past weeks, media headlines have described ongoing public demonstrations in Washington opposing expected approval by President Obama of the proposed Keystone Pipeline which will connect the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Texas.


In a two-week period, over 1,200 women and men were arrested in civil disobedience actions. Too often our public discussions relating to the oilsands are too narrow and limited: talk of economic stimulus, more jobs, overcoming government deficits, our oil is not quite as bad environmentally or even "ethically" as theirs, etc.

These discussions are necessary and important, but they duck the big picture questions.

In Caritas in Vertiate, Pope Benedict speaks of "authentic, integral human development." This is a big picture view of humans as unique individuals who are called to live ethically in relationships in communities in the midst of creation before God.

Bishop Luc Bouchard's 2009 Pastoral Letter, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands, dared to look at the "God's eye" big picture. While citing the relevant ecological and economic data, his conclusion was a critical theological and moral judgement on the "scope and scale" of the proposed Athabasca oilsands developments. He was able to widen significantly the frame of the public debate, at least for a time.

far east guidance

Maybe the big picture words of the two Japanese bishops can help us reframe our public conversations in Alberta today:

"We must seek a lifestyle that will help us to become humble before all the creations of God."

If we get to frame the questions right, we are a long way towards finding the right answers.

Correction: In my July column I wrote incorrectly that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the Northwest U.S. was no longer operating. Leah Nusse reports that the organization, based in Portland, Ore., is indeed alive and well, celebrating its 50th anniversary having engaged over 6,000 volunteers in this time. (

Scarboro Foreign Mission Society maintains a listing of Canadian lay mission volunteer service opportunities

(Bob McKeon: