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Franciscans in Japan Unharmed by Earthquake

TOKYO, Japan — Five HNP friars living and serving at the Franciscan Chapel Center confirmed they were safe following the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11.

“We found the earth beneath our feet swaying so that it became almost difficult to stand,” said Donnon Murray, OFM, who serves at the chapel center. “When it settled down, we discovered some books from the bookshelves had fallen to the floor and two large candles had broken as well as the arm of a St. Francis statue.” There was no other damage to the center.

In a March 23 note to all friars, director Russell Becker, OFM, wrote: “Where we are, so far, all the events have just been a nuisance, scary sometimes, but still just a nuisance. We just had more aftershocks, and it always makes us wonder: should we run out or not. The poor people up north are experiencing a nightmare. Devastation and catastrophe barely describe what they continue to experience.”

In the days following the quake, several notes were posted on the Franciscan Chapel Center Facebook page, expressing thanksgiving for the friars’ safety and prayer for those in more immediate danger.

The center’s basement became a shelter to 50 Filipinos from Sendai and Fukushima, according to Russell, who has been stationed in Japan since last year. He said in a YouTube video that he and the friars are trying to make their stay “as comfortable as possible.”

In the video, he noted: “A lot of the people who are staying here with us, who are our guests, are also helping us, because we feed some homeless people every day, and they’re helping us make the food for the onigiri for them. It’s a really nice thing that even people who are having a very hard time are doing something nice for other people. It’s a wonderful privilege for us to be able to have the evacuees come here, and to try and make it as normal a situation as possible.”

Donnon added that by late last week, everything in Tokyo was back to normal, except for public transportation.

Thomas Hartle, OFM, the Province’s spiritual assistant to the Poor Clares, received word from Sr. Mary Pius, a Poor Clare from Jamaica Plain, Mass., about the Poor Clare Monastery in Kiryu, Gumma Ken Prefecture, Japan.

“Sr. Mary said the shaking from the quake lasted 30 minutes, and the upper part of the monastery felt like it just kept on rolling,” Thomas wrote in an email. “They are far enough from the coast that the tsunami didn’t directly affect them. They have not lost electricity or phone service and have a well for water.”

The monastery is “so far fine,” according to Tom, who reported cracks have appeared in the walls and “a few cinder blocks have fallen down.” He said he receives daily updates via fax on the condition and life of those who were directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The Poor Clares in Japan are part of the Holy Name Federation.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and the Sisters in Niigata (another Poor Clare monastery) are also well.

“They all feel they were protected by the Good Lord and his saints,” Tom said.

Russell said that the HNP Franciscan Missionary Union is accepting financial contributions for people in Japan affected by the recent natural disasters. “I know friars and partners-in-ministry may want to help,” he said. “Right now the best thing is money; send donations to the FMU and designate ‘Japan.’ More importantly, please pray for us.”

The donations are being passed along to Caritas Japan.

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.