SENDAI – An emissary of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday visited a disaster-hit tourist spot in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, to pray for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Cardinal Robert Sarah offered the prayers aboard a sightseeing boat cruising the Matsushima area, which is dotted with small islands devastated by the tsunami.
“People in Matsushima are helping those in neighboring towns who were seriously affected by the disaster even though they themselves are also victims. I was moved to see people helping each other,” Sarah said.
The Roman prelate came to Matsushima, one of Japan’s three most-celebrated scenic sites, referred to collectively as “Nihon Sankei” (Three Views of Japan) at the invitation of Deputy Mayor Koichi Nishimura.
Nishimura developed connections with the Roman Catholic Church in 1995 when he helped disaster relief activities as a volunteer worker at Kobe’s Takatori Catholic Church after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, in which more than 6,400 people died.
Nishimura became aware of the cardinal’s impending visit through an email magazine from the church.
“I am rejoicing that my activities 16 years ago are now producing fruits in this manner,” Nishimura said. “I hope the cardinal’s visit will help promote Matsushima’s recovery as a tourist spot.”
Foreign victim tally at 24
The government has confirmed the deaths of 24 foreigners from the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that struck east and northeast Japan on March 11, but several dozen others are still missing, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Monday.
The ministry has so far listed the dead as nationals of China, Canada, South and North Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States.
The police have asked the families of those unaccounted for via diplomatic missions in Tokyo to submit DNA samples to help identify the bodies, the official said.
The missing foreigners include nationals of China, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, he added.
In the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which struck Kobe and its vicinity, around 150 foreigners were among 6,434 victims.
As of Sunday, the death toll from the twin disasters on March 11 had reached 15,057, with 9,121 people still unaccounted for.