Pope Francis held up Japan’s climbing suicide rate among the young as a sign of “loneliness, despair and isolation” in his first address in the country Saturday.
“All of us are aware of the grave problems affecting people in your communities whose lives are marked, for various reasons, by loneliness, despair and isolation,” the pope told a meeting of bishops assembled in the nation’s capital of Tokyo.
“The increase in the rates of suicide in your cities, as well as bullying (ijime) and various kinds of neediness, are creating new forms of alienation and spiritual disorientation,” Francis continued. “Since these affect the young in particular, I ask you to pay special attention to them and their needs.”
The year 2018 saw the highest rates of suicide for those under 20 years old since Japan began keeping records of the issue, the government revealed this past July.
The suicide rate per 100,000 people hit 2.8 for those under 20, with academic issues such as poor school performance cited as the most common reason among youth between the ages of ten and 19. This figure was the highest since comparable data became available in 1978.
In absolute figures, the total number of those under 20 who killed themselves in 2018 rose to 599, an increase of 32 over the previous year, while suicides among those over 20 decreased.
In his address Saturday evening, Pope Francis urged the bishops of Japan to address this issue by helping young people to find joy in the gospel message.
“Try to create spaces in which the culture of efficiency, performance, and success can become open to a culture of generous and selfless love, capable of offering to everyone, and not only to those who have ‘made it,’ the possibility of a happy and successful life,” Francis said.
“With their zeal, ideas and energy, young people — when well-formed and accompanied — can be a deep source of hope to their contemporaries and bear vital witness to Christian charity,” the pope said. “A creative, inculturated, and imaginative quest to live the Gospel message can have a powerful effect on so many lives thirsting for compassion.”