Rome – Advocates of social justice for religious orders around the world praise Pope Francis’ unusual appointment of a diocesan bishop to their ranks, saying the choice underscores the importance of their work and ministry.
Divine Word Missionary Fr. Paul Daisuke Narui, who has served in Rome since 2015 as the coordinator of his order for matters of peace and justice, will return to Japan later this month as the new head of the Diocese of Niigata, about 200 miles northwest of Tokyo.
Narui – 46 and previously coordinator of the Japanese church’s relief efforts after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster – is one of dozens of such coordinators for congregational diversity in Rome.
Her colleagues describe a priest devoted to social justice issues, a good collaborator and particularly attentive to making the voices of women heard.
“Pope Francis is looking for people who will support his program, his mission, his message. You will find that for sure at Daisuke, ”said Sr. Sheila Kinsey, Co-Executive Secretary of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. commission of the two coordination groups of men and women religious of the world, based in Rome.
Kinsey, a member of the Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who worked closely with Narui for about five years, said the new bishop “is steadfast and committed to the same things as Pope Francis” .
“They are very, very lucky to have him,” Kinsey said of the new Narui Diocese.
Mercedarian Sr Filo Hirota, who worked with Narui on justice issues while leading his order in Rome from 2012 to 2018, said he was “always available, ready to help and to serve, straightforward, smiling and at ease. “
“He listens to and learns from women,” said Hirota, who now lives in Tokyo. “It’s great to have a bishop who knows and lives what Jesus’ discipleship is like.”
Narui told NCR his appointment as bishop was a “total surprise”. He said that since being ordained a priest in 2001, he has mainly worked on social justice issues or as a trainer for his order, and does not have extensive experience as a pastor.
“I have limited experience in pastoral work,” said the bishop-designate. “So I really have to collaborate or ask other more experienced people to help me. I try to have a shared responsibility style of work.”
Narui is originally from Aichi Prefecture in Japan, about 290 miles south of Niigata, but spent his first three years as a priest as assistant pastor of a parish in his new diocese. Niigata also borders Fukushima Prefecture, site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Serving as the executive secretary of Caritas Japan at the time, Narui led the national church’s response to the disaster, coordinating relief efforts with other Caritas organizations across Asia.
“We have received so much help from the diocese where I am going to go,” said Narui. “I have met so many people – many people have come from this diocese to the affected place where I was working at the time. I feel connected to them.”
Japan’s Catholic community is small, with Vatican figures only listing 536,000 Catholics in a nation of 127 million. Niigata is estimated to have around 7,300 Catholics out of a population of 4.6 million.
Narui said that while leading the tsunami relief effort, he learned how well and easily Japanese Catholics can work with non-Catholics.
“It was a wonderful witness to evangelical values,” said the bishop-designate. “Baptized or not, we can share the core values of the gospel and work together for those in difficulty.
“Collaboration is really important to me – not just by the bishop, or by the priest, but everyone, even non-Catholics,” Narui said. “I think it is impossible to witness the gospel, the good news in our world, without collaboration.”
Sacred Heart Sr. Anne Corry, international justice, peace and integrity of creation coordinator for her order, said Japanese members of her congregation praised Narui’s leadership in the tsunami relief effort.
Corry also said that in his experience working with Narui in various organizations in Rome, “he is caring and respectful and even when these groups included strong and articulate women, Daisuke was greatly appreciated and respected.”
“One of the skills Daisuke will bring to his new role will be listening,” she said. “In fact, he listens more than he talks, but when he speaks, his contribution is always thoughtful, incisive, knowledgeable.”
Narui said that upon his return to Japan, he will think particularly of a message of encouragement he received regarding his new role.
Members of his community in Rome, he said, visit their neighborhood once a week to visit the homeless and offer them food or other assistance.
“They are friends,” Narui said. “A friend of mine congratulated me and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor.’ “
“It was touching for me, because he said that not because he is homeless, not because he wanted to help other homeless people through me,” said the priest. “But the way he said it was with dignity – because he agrees with that value, with the value of not forgetting the poor.”
“It was a great encouragement for me,” said Narui.[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]