In a meeting Monday with people affected by Japan’s 2011 “triple disaster,” Pope Francis criticized society’s indifference toward the suffering of others.
He said that decisions will have to be made about the use of natural resources and future energy sources, and noted other major issues, such as wars, refugees, food, economic disparities, and environmental challenges.
“But the most important thing, I believe, is to progress in building a culture capable of combating indifference,” he said Nov. 25.
“One of our greatest ills has to do with a culture of indifference. We need to work together to foster awareness that if one member of our family suffers, we all suffer.”
Pope Francis met with around 300 people affected by the country’s “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
An estimated 19,000 people died and 150,000 were displaced by the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake under the ocean off the coast of Japan. In the wake of the nuclear disaster that followed, considered the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, another approximately 150,000 people were displaced in mandatory evacuations. Many of these people have not returned home.
The meeting was part of a six-day visit to Asia, which began in Thailand.
At the encounter, the pope heard the testimonies of three people: a 16-year-old and a Buddhist priest who were living in the area of the nuclear power plant at the time of the meltdown, and a Catholic woman who survived the earthquake.
He thanked them for their testimonies, calling the meeting an important part of his visit to Japan. The pope then asked for a moment of silent prayer for the thousands of people who lost their lives in the disaster and for their families.
May this prayer, he said, “unite us and give us the courage to look forward with hope.”
In his speech, the pope emphasized the importance of working together to help those who were affected by the disaster, especially those who may have been forgotten by others, or who face the ongoing problems of contaminated lands or the effects of radiation.
“No one ‘rebuilds’ by himself or herself; nobody can start over alone. We have to find a friendly and fraternal hand, capable of helping to raise not just a city, but also our horizon and our hope,” he said.
“The path to a full recovery may still be long, but it can always be undertaken if it counts on the spirit of people capable of mobilizing in order to help one another.”
During the meeting, which took place at the Bellesalle Hanzomon event center in Tokyo, a song composed for victims of the 2011 earthquake was performed. The title of the song is “Flowers Will Bloom.”
Noting the Daiichi nuclear power plant accident and its aftermath, Pope Francis said concern needs to be taken not only for the scientific and medical concerns, but also the destruction to the fabric of the community.
“Until social bonds in local communities are re-established, and people can once more enjoy safe and stable lives, the Fukushima accident will not be fully resolved,” he said.
This, he continued, concerns the use of nuclear power, which is why the bishops of Japan have called for an end to nuclear power plants.
“Our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress. This ‘technocratic paradigm’ of progress and development shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society, and often leads to a reductionism that affects every aspect of human and social life,” he warned.
It is important, he said, to stop and think critically about who one is and who one wants to be – to think about “what kind of world, what kind of legacy” we will leave to those who come after.
“The wisdom and experience of elders, united to the zeal and enthusiasm of young people, can help to forge a different vision, one that fosters reverence for the gift of life and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the one multiethnic and multicultural human family,” he said.
“Whenever you take one step, you move one step forward. I invite you, then, to move forward each day, little by little, to build a future based on solidarity and commitment to one another, for yourselves, your children and grandchildren, and for the generations to come,” he encouraged.