Churches in Japan are still desperately trying to confirm the safety of their parishioners six days after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the north-eastern region.
The Anglican Bishop of Tohoku, the Rt. Rev. John Hiromichi Kato, said that the affected area was very wide and diocesan staff had not been able to visit all areas.
One member of St John’s Church, Isoyama, has been confirmed dead but there is still no news of the tiny church’s other seven members.
“We pray that they are all safe in some temporary shelter,” said Bishop Kato, in a statement Wednesday.
Last Friday, gigantic waves generated by an undersea tremor leveled entire coastal cities and towns, leaving an estimated 10,000 people dead or missing. The magnitude-8.9 earthquake was the worst in Japan's recorded history.
Rescue teams are starting to end their search efforts, though many remain missing.
"The Japanese government have told us they are now moving from search and rescue to the recovery phase," said Pete Stevenson, a firefighter heading Britain's 70-strong team, according to The Associated Press.
Christ Church Sendai, the Diocese of Tohoku's main church, has still not been able to locate some of its members.
Despite being on the coast, the tsunami did not reach Grace Church in Kamaishi, but not all members have been found, Bishop Kato reported.
Around 450,000 people are living in temporary shelters. Kato said food and petrol supplies remained low, while gas, electricity and water services were still out in many places.
“The tsunami and fires it caused have made us miserable,” he said. “We were simply not prepared for problems on this scale.”
The bishop also expressed concern over the worsening nuclear situation as efforts to cool down reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant were stepped up. Authorities have enlisted helicopters and water cannons and it is hoped electricity will soon be restored to the plant.
The Diocese of Tohoku has set up a relief center at its diocesan headquarters in Sendai to coordinate the church’s humanitarian response. One of its most immediate tasks is to confirm the safety of parishioners and church buildings.
“The eventual challenge is to rebuild our diocese. With God’s blessing I pray that we will accomplish this task,” Kato stated. “I realize that many challenges lie ahead of us. I pray that what we do will be with God’s blessing that Christ has taught us to do so in his holy words.”
Out of Japan's population of 127.5 million, there are only around 2 million Christians.