Interview With Ambassador Kagefumi Ueno
VATICAN CITY, 23 AUG. 2007 (ZENIT)
Japan and the Vatican have a lot of
reasons to intensify relations in the coming years, especially regarding
cooperation in Africa, says the new Japanese ambassador to the Holy See.
Ambassador Kagefumi Ueno, who began his mission at the Vatican in
November, adds that "there is a lot of scope for teamwork and
coordination between Japanese aid agencies and some important Catholic
players in Africa."
In this interview with ZENIT, the ambassador also offers a Japanese
perspective of the Vatican, and some thoughts on why Catholics only
comprise 0.5% of Japan's population.
Q: Coming from Japan, what strikes you most about the Holy See?
Ueno: My impression is that the Holy See has four very distinct
First, it has a moral value or moral authority that is respected not
only by Catholics but also by many authorities of non-Christian
For instance, when I extended my credentials to the Holy Father, he
expressed his desire for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The next day, what he said to me was reported almost everywhere around
Likewise, what he says about Darfur, Iraq, Palestine and so forth,
always receives international attention.
The Pope is, in this context, a kind of "guardian" over the
international situation. The international community expects him to talk
about peace and justice.
When the U.S. president or Russian president speaks on some
international issue, it is taken for granted that he speaks from
national interests. But that is not the case when the Pope speaks. The
Holy See is detached from secular interests.
Second, I regard the Holy See as an international unit like the United
Nations. To some extent I deem the Pope as a kind of secretary-general
of another United Nations, although with religious foundations.
Third, the Church has a global network that is locally rooted in every
continent, with its operational center at the Vatican.
Fourth, they have a big communication power through Vatican Radio,
L'Osservatore Romano and other media to spread their message to every
corner of the world.
All in all, very unique and impressive!
For me, a man who comes from Japan, a country with a long-lasting
imperial household, in fact, one of the oldest institutions in the world
besides the Holy See, it is interesting to explore why and how the Holy
See has succeeded in lasting for such a long time.
Q: Are their areas of cooperation that the Holy See and Japan have in
Ueno: Before touching upon that, I like to repeat that the most
important role to be played by the Pope is to spread the message of
So even personally, not just as ambassador of Japan, I expect him to
talk about his views on peace and justice whenever and wherever
Besides peace and justice, the priority areas of cooperation,
coordination and communication between the two are global warming and
Speaking specifically of Africa, as the second largest donor of
assistance in the international community after the United States, Japan
offers a lot in terms of aid to Africa.
Up until some time ago, Japanese assistance was focused only in the
As many Asian recipients of our aid managed to develop their respective
economies successfully over the last 2 or 3 decades, there is less and
less urgency to direct our assistance there.
From here, Japan started "a process of dialogue on development"
15 years ago between Japan, African countries, other donor countries and
At a strategic and policy level, Japan, serving as the next chair of the
group of eight summit in 2008, should do everything possible to urge the
G-8 countries to substantially focus their attention to Africa in a
concerted and coordinated manner.
Japan is keen to hear the Holy See's view. The policy dialogue between
Japan and the Holy See is expected to intensify.
On a practical and operational level, there is a lot of scope for
teamwork and coordination between Japanese aid agencies and some
important Catholic players in Africa, such as Caritas International and
the Community of Sant'Egidio, among others, in coming years.
I always pay respect to endeavors of Catholic aid donors who, when taken
together, make up the largest organization giving assistance to
It should not be overlooked, in passing, that one obvious additional
advantage of Japan is that there is no historical "negative links"
between Japan and Africa: Japan is very "free" in Africa, since they
haven't had any experience of colonization there.
Q: What is your view on interreligious dialogue?
Ueno: I like to say that, nowadays, whenever the Catholic Church talks
about interreligious dialogue, it seems to me that in reality they mean
dialogue with Islam.
Of course, I fully understand that dialogue with Islam has paramount
importance for Catholicism. But, dialogue with other religions such as
Buddhism, Shintoism, and so forth, should be equally heeded.
Actually, in Japan, when interreligious dialogue is spoken of, the
preoccupation is also on Islam, not necessarily Catholicism or
So, I like to appeal to both sides
to the Holy See and to Japanese society in general
to think more and more about dialogue between Catholicism on one hand
and Buddhism and Shintoism on the other.
In this respect, it is noteworthy that Monsignor Felix Machado,
undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue,
participated in the Religious Summit Meeting on Mount Hiei, Kyoto,
earlier this month.
Q: Has Catholicism contributed in any significant way to Japanese
Ueno: There are two aspects that should be pointed out.
First, in Japan the Catholic Church has established many universities,
schools and other welfare facilities.
Many of the graduates from these institutions occupy important positions
in a variety of social segments. For instance, at my ministry, the
Japanese Foreign Ministry, there are a number of graduates from those
Through these institutions many Japanese are to some extent familiar
with Catholic virtues.
Nevertheless, I must add that somehow not many of those educated in
Catholic institutions are baptized. Actually, those who are remain a
very small proportion.
I believe there are two reasons why so few become Catholic.
First, let me remind you that majority of Japanese have a mentality to
perceive or find "souls" in plants, animals, mountains, waterfalls,
fountains, rocks and so on, like, say, ancient Celtic people.
This Japanese cosmology, typical of a polytheistic mentality, has a
sharp contrast with the monotheistic vision of Christianity.
Second, against this background, it appears to me that Christians tend
to adhere to absolute values.
For instance, when they talk about justice or evil, they mean absolute
justice or evil
In contrast with them, when Japanese talk about justice, they mean
Thus, there are some basic and fundamental philosophical differences
between the two cosmologies, which, though vaguely, accounts for a
relatively low proportion of Christians in Japan.
However, we should not overlook another side of the coin
that many Japanese accept 70%-80% of the teachings of Catholicism.
For instance, they accept almost all of the Ten Commandments. There are
a lot of common denominators between the two cosmologies.
I would say Christianity has had many positive effects on Japanese