Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Over the last couple of days, we have looked at Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero. Today I wish to write about a Japanese social reformer called Toyohiko Kagawa, who was born in 1888 and died in 1960.
I strongly suspect that you will never have heard of Toyohiko Kagawa. Indeed, I would never have heard of him, were it not for a parishioner in my previous parish, who introduced him to me.
Kagawa came from a wealthy, non-Christian family. He converted to Christianity in his late teens, and for this he was disinherited by his family. It was a time when Japan was experiencing rapid industrialization, and the conditions for the workers often left much to be desired. Kagawa spent some years working among the poor in the slums of Shinkawa, and after a period of study in the USA, he devoted his life to the improvement of social conditions, in both the countryside and in the cities. He founded the first Japanese Labour Union and the first Peasant Union, and in 1928 founded the National Anti-War League. The military leaders became increasingly dominant in Japanese politics, and in 1940 Kagawa was imprisoned as a pacifist. However, Kagawa managed to survive the war, and after the war he became a leader in the movement to establish democratic government in Japan.
Kagawa was motivated by his deep Christian faith, and he was keen to encourage people to become Christians. Indeed, in 1930 he set up an organisation called the Kingdom of God Movement, with this aim in mind. He was a prolific author, and English translations of his books include Love the Lw of Life (1930), The Religion of Jesus (1931), New Life through God (1932) and Brotherhood Economics (1937).
Kagawa was, of course, a man of his time. He was neither a trained economist nor a sophisticated thinker, and his approach to the remedying of social evils is, inevitably, open to criticism. But he was sincere, and he had the courage of his convictions. He was prepared to propose solutions to many of the social problems of his day, and he had the courage to promote an Anti-War agenda, which took courage indeed in the Japan of the 1930s and early 1940s.
I wonder : what are the social evils in our own day and in our own society? Are we prepared to do anything about them?