His Holiness, Pope Francis

November 20, 2019

Your Holiness,

It is with profound anticipation that I contemplate Your Holiness’ upcoming visit to Japan.

The visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Japan in 1981 made a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the Japanese people. I still remember how pleased and grateful we felt when His Holiness visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and met with our Emperor Showa.

1. Photograph of a Japanese boy at a crematorium inspires prayer for peace

I welcome Your Holiness’ visit to Japan for reasons that are very special to me.

Last year, on New Year’s Day, an occasion of great significance to the Japanese people, Your Holiness directed Roman Catholics everywhere to circulate a photograph of a young Japanese boy, taken by an American soldier soon after an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

The photograph shows a boy standing in front of a crematorium; his younger brother, killed in the bombing, is strapped to his back. The older boy is trying mightily to stifle his grief, biting his lips so hard he draws blood. His intrepidness and his brave determination to fulfill his familial duty toward his little brother touched the very souls of the Japanese, the citizens of the only nation to fall victim to atomic bombs.

Seventy-four years have elapsed since the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. During those yours we have joined together, as a nation, and endeavored to bear up under unspeakable suffering. We have transcended the feelings of hostility that led to war, and made every effort possible toward the achievement of world peace. The courage of the boy in the photograph, who stares unflinchingly at the future, resonates with people all over the world who even today grapple with hardship and struggle to overcome adversity.

As we contemplate this photograph, the people of Japan would like to express our appreciation for the compassion and prayer for peace that motivated Your Holiness to recommend its dissemination. To Your Holiness we offer our most sincere respect and gratitude. As an educator, I too embrace Your Holiness’ noble sentiments, and vow to communicate the message of this photograph to the coming generations. I am confident that Your Holiness’ visit to Japan will be remembered as a new, first step on the journey to world peace.

2. Our trust in Sophia University

Among Japan’s universities, Sophia University has a special connection with the Vatican.

Sophia University was established in 1913 as a foundation for the cultivation of the Roman Catholic spirit. The Jochi in its Japanese name (Jochi Daigaku) means “divine wisdom.” The list of this institute of higher learning’s achievements has grown steadily as it sends countless talented men and women out into Japan and the entire world, thanks to the strenuous efforts of its faculty and guidance from the Vatican.

Thirty-eight years ago His Holiness Pope John Paul II expressed a desire to visit Sophia University, perhaps in anticipation of new accomplishments. A highlight of that visit was a lecture delivered by His Holiness.

Looking back at the history of Sophia University, I realize that its progress is closely connected with matters of concern and interest to the Japanese people.

In 1932 there was an incident involving 60 Sophia University students at Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto shrine that honors the war dead. Three of their number refused to pay their respects, stating that they were exercising their right to freedom of religion. When university authorities consulted the Ministry of Education, they were told that pilgrimages to Yasukuni Shrine are opportunities for the Japanese people to demonstrate their patriotism, and that doing so in no way infringes upon freedom of religion. In fact, the pilgrimages are in keeping with guidelines from the Vatican concerning the duties of Roman Catholics to their native lands.

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, GHQ (General Headquarters) of the SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), the forces temporarily occupying Japan, proposed that Yasukuni Shrine be burned to the ground and replaced by a racetrack. Even within SCAP there was disagreement about this proposal.

General Douglas MacArthur, then the supreme commander, consulted with the Reverend Bruno Bitter, president of Sophia University and representative of the Roman Curia. Father Bitter told MacArthur he vehemently opposed the destruction of Yasukuni Shrine because it is the right and duty of citizens everywhere to honor their war dead, adding that that right belonged equally to the citizens of victorious and defeated nations.

The Japanese people have embraced this incident, which has become one of the reasons for their respect for Sophia University.

When the Vietnam War broke out it was Father Joseph Pittau, rector of Sophia University, who became well known in Japan for being one of the first to extend a helping hand to refugees. Father Pittau was subsequently called back to Rome, where he served as rector of the Gregorian University. He had great affection for Japan, to which he returned after retiring; he entered the Kingdom of Heaven at age 75.

In 1968 campus strife erupted all over the world. Japan’s universities, even Sophia University, were no exceptions. Many universities were struggling to resolve disputes. Sophia University closed for six months. The school’s survival hinged on restoring order on its campus, which was accomplished through the use of a combination of decisive tactics; these became known as the “Sophia model,” and were emulated by other universities in Japan to resolve similar problems.

3. Plea for directives to Sophia University

Throughout its history Sophia University has proven itself to be a font of wisdom, and therefore has earned the respect and affection of the Japanese people. Unfortunately, a dark cloud is now hanging over this institution, and though it pains me to do so, I feel compelled to describe it to Your Holiness.

Recently it was discovered that a master’s thesis submitted by a graduate student was the product of plagiarism. The student’s thesis was rejected and his degree rescinded. The head of the Student Center resigned after making an inappropriate statement. At least one faculty member was discharged for disciplinary reasons. These incidents were disclosed publicly in the form of the university’s Message from the President.

I must mention another, deplorable incident that occurred recently at Sophia University, which, like all universities, must be a center for the quest for truth. I am one of the victims of that incident.

Three years ago an American graduate student under the supervision of Sophia University Professor Nakano Koichi announced his intention to produce a documentary film to satisfy the requirements for a master’s degree. The graduate student then proceeded to request interviews with 10 commentators and scholars who support the Japanese government’s stance on a particular issue.

In a letter he wrote requesting an interview, the graduate student promised that since the intent of his project was academic research, it would in no way resemble biased journalism. He even stated that as a graduate student, he had a moral obligation to portray those interviewed fairly and respectfully. The student added that the interviews were intended to maintain fairness and neutrality, and that he would be submitting the film to Sophia University as a graduation project.

Everyone who was interviewed respected and trusted Sophia University, rooted as it was in the Catholic spirit. Everyone who was interviewed believed the promises made by the graduate student. One of them, a female journalist, even went to the trouble of encouraging the student via email.

But the aforementioned promises the graduate student made orally and via email were no more than part of a nefarious plot intended to convince people whose opinion differs from that of the producer (who disdains their opinions) to agree to be interviewed. The finished product bears absolutely no resemblance to academic research; it is a one-sided propaganda film. Those who disagree with the professor (and graduate student) are labeled as villains. Their remarks are quoted out of context and censured without their being granted an opportunity for rebuttal, their characters are vilified, and they are ridiculed.

This fraudulent film was made in the (false) name of “academic research” and traded on Sophia University’s fine reputation. Moreover, it is now being shown as a commercial film in ordinary cinemas, without the permission of those who were interviewed. One of the people attacked in this film is a woman who graduated from Sophia University. The film continues to be shown in Japan and abroad as well.

In a free, healthy society, there are many political perspectives. Any kind of film is permissible as long as it does not violate public order and morals. At issue here is not which point of view is correct. In academia there is an ironclad moral rule that prohibits the denigration of and injury to those who have contributed to a research project. It is the researcher’s solemn duty to prevent such eventualities. The reason why so many people willingly make sacrifices of varying degree to assist with research efforts is their conviction that scholarship energizes societies, encourages the improvement of cultures, and does not libel others.

If a professor like the one described above commits acts that betray that trust, but in spite of that, is not held responsible for those acts, no one will risk cooperating with academic research. A situation like this signifies the collapse of the foundation upon which learning stands. For that very reason, it is vital to protect the reputations and human rights of all those who collaborate or cooperate with researchers.

That Sophia University has been the site of such an improper scheme is a great disappointment to earnest faculty members, students, and alumni. Behind this behavior that excuses trickery are self-righteous notions of the same origin as communism, one of the tenets of which is that any means may be used to rationalize a political objective, such as the brutal suppression of religion.

As one of the victims of this swindle and a concerned Japanese, I appeal to Your Holiness: For the sake of Sophia University, for the Catholic spirit (which signifies the universal truth), and for the sake of academic research in Japan, I beseech Your Holiness to investigate the current state of Sophia University, and instruct its leaders as Your Holiness sees fit. Please assist in the rehabilitation of the university, so that it is once again a wholesome institute of learning.

With every good wish to Your Holiness for a peaceful, fruitful journey,

FUJIOKA Nobukatsu Ex-Professor of Education at The Tokyo University

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