Japanese churches continue searching for disaster victims

Published March 18, 2011

At the UN, a moment of silence for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11. Photo: UN/Evan Schneider

Churches are among those who keep searching for missing people, including clergy, members and their families, as the death toll after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami has reached the highest in the history of natural disasters in postwar Japan.

The National Police Agency has reported that as of March 18, more than 6,500 people have been confirmed dead, which is more than 6,400 killed by the Kobe earthquake in 1995. The agency also reported on March 18 that more than 10,300 are missing, and 2,500 injured, with more than 3,500 buildings destroyed. Meanwhile, workers at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continued to try to contain radiation leaks.

Church leaders and members are using online information boards to get updates on their members and families who are missing and struggling to survive. Some, however, have been found dead or lost their churches, houses and other properties.

"Some children at Catholic kindergartens in the diocese died," Shiro Komatsu, an official of the Sendai Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, reported. A wake for Fr. Lachapelle Andre, 76, of the Quebec Foreign Mission Society, who died following the tsunami, was held at its cathedral near the epicentre on March 15.

"The first floor of the Kamaishi Church in Iwate Prefecture has been flooded," Komatsu said. "In Fukushima Prefecture, Onahama Church on the coastal area has been utterly destroyed."

Earlier on March 15, Bishop Hiromichi Kato of the Sendai Diocese of the Anglican-Episcopal Church reported that one of its members at Isoyama St. John Church on a coastal area of Fukushima was killed by the tsunami.

In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, "the chapel of Kesennuma First Bible Baptist Church, which was built only some years ago, is gone," a Japanese Christian news media, The Christians, reported.

The Orthodox Church in Japan reported that one of its members at a coastal area of Ishimaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was confirmed dead. The church also reported on 17 March that the building of Yamada Parish and Holy Annunciation Chapel in Iwate Prefecture "was destroyed and burnt out."

But on March 15, the church began to accept relief donations and operations to support the church and parishioners who have suffered from the disaster.

A growing number of churches and Christian-run facilities and Christian homeowners are offering their church buildings as shelters for victims and those who are evacuated from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The National Council of YMCAs of Japan is spreading its nationwide support to victims as part of a worldwide response to the disaster through the Asia-Pacific Alliance of YMCAs.


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