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Priests crossing boundaries of faith

Kyodo

Inter-faith groups formed by religious leaders have been taking off since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

An untold number of small councils have been established, but at the prefectural and city levels there are some 50 groups across Japan.

In Ota Ward, Tokyo, priests from Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity and other religions formed a group in 2006 to engage in social services and discuss what they should and can do to address problems related to the aging population, high suicide rate, environmental problems and other matters.

“I can confirm where I stand by listening to others of different faiths,” a member said.

Another said collaboration may pay dividends. “We should recognize our differences through dialogue and take the initiative in creating peace,” the member said.

While the religions vary, they “represent different mountain-climbing paths and the goal is the same,” one said.

A group formed in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1971 is a pioneer in breaking such barriers. “There were only a few groups across the country at that time because the consciousness of sectarian lines was much stronger than now,” said its leader, Shungen Kiyokumo, an elder at Hokoji Temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

The members have deepened their mutual understanding through meetings that include two study tours a year.

Kiyokumo said the members should address the problem of people dying alone, an idea developed from dialogue with priests of different faiths.

“We’d like to attend lonely deaths one way or another and cooperate with hospitals,” he said.

The group also publishes a journal that covers such issues.