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Japanese and American Catholics Take on the Bomb

By Drew Christiansen

Writer Drew Christiansen, S. J., is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Human Development at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. He is the co-editor with Carole Sargent of A World Free from Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament (Georgetown University Press, 2020). facebook.com/disarmnowgeorgetown

WASHINGTON, DC. (IDN) -- Nagasaki is the historic centre of Japanese Catholicism. In the 16th century, beginning with the missionary visits of one of the first Jesuits, Francis Xavier, Nagasaki was the focal point of their efforts to bring Christianity to Japan. [2020–08-01 | 10] JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

 After a series of persecutions and the official suppression of Christianity in the late 17th century, Nagasaki’s “hidden Christians” kept their faith alive for centuries, baptizing their children, catechizing them and passing on their favourite prayers.

After the resumption of contact with Europeans and the legalization of the church in the later 19th century, parishioners built the Urakami cathedral, named for the neighbourhood in which the hidden Christians had lived.

The detonation of the atom bomb over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, destroyed the cathedral, which lay only 500 meters from the centre-point of the detonation. The bomb blast incinerated all those assisting at Mass that day.

One of the relics of the bombed cathedral is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose disfigured face and hollow, blackened eye-sockets provide a haunting memory of that nuclear holocaust.

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, Japanese and American Catholics join in ongoing commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the bombing. On Monday August 3, Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, a survivor of the 1945 bombing, now the archbishop of Nagasaki and president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Japan, will exchange remarks and prayers with Bishop David Malloy, the bishop of Rockford, IL, and chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

On a visit to Nagasaki in November 2019, Pope Francis appealed for the abolition of nuclear weapons, saying “A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere. To make this ideal a reality calls for involvement on the part of all.”

Two years earlier the Holy See had signed and the Pope had ratified the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and at a conference marking the opening of the treaty, he had condemned the possession of nuclear weapons and “the threat to use [them],” effectively de-legitimating nuclear deterrence as a defence strategy. 

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Archbishop Takami commented, “There is a need to join Pope Francis ‘to raise our voice and make it louder.’ We need to make all the politicians and the people of the world understand that the existence of nuclear weapons is a problem.’”

The archbishop also “appealed to people of faith, and Catholics in particular, to know and understand ‘the peace that Christ teaches’ so that they can see that a world without violence is possible.”

Anticipating the coming anniversary, Archbishop José Goméz of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote, “My brother bishops and I mourn with the Japanese people for the innocent lives that were taken and the generations that have continued to suffer the public health and environmental consequences of these tragic attacks.”

In the name of the U.S. bishops, Gomez, too, joined Pope Francis’ appeal for abolition of nuclear weapons, calling “on our national and world leaders to persevere in their efforts to abolish these weapons of mass destruction, which threaten the existence of the human race and our planet.”

The August 3 exchange between Archbishop Takami and Bishop Malloy is an effort to make the Catholic Church’s teaching on nuclear abolition better known by both Catholics and the wider public. At the same time, Georgetown University Press is releasing a book of the testimonies delivered at the symposium where Pope Francis issued his condemnation, A World Free of Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament.

In addition, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network will sponsor a trans-oceanic dialog between Japanese and American students the week of August 3 and, in October, dialogues between Archbishop Takami and audiences of students, faculty and members of the public at Catholic University, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

The October 3 webcast is a production of the Project on Re-vitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, a collaboration of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Center for International Peace Studies, and the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America with the collaboration of Professor Hirokazu Miyazaki of Northwestern University.

Among the other co-sponsors are Pax Christi International and the International Federation of Catholic Universities. (For the webcast announcement see

https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/events/catholics-commemorate-75-years-after-hiroshima-and-nagasaki.) [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 August 2020].

Photo: Atomic Bombing in Nagasaki and the Urakami Cathedral. Credit: Google Arts&Culture

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