06 February 2023

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 6 February 2023

The cross from the rubble of Urakami Cathedral was returned to Nagasaki in 2019 (Photograph: Randy Sarvis / Wilmington College)

Patrick Comerford

Before today becomes a busy day I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time. We are in a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday later this month (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Christ crucified on the Mushroom Cloud … an icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Kristin McCarthy

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers the Martyrs of Japan (1597) with a commemoration.

Almost 50 years after Francis Xavier had arrived in Japan as its first Christian apostle, the presence of several thousand baptised Christians in Japan became a subject of suspicion to the ruler Hideyoshi. In a period of persecution, 26 men and women, religious and lay, were first mutilated then crucified near Nagasaki in 1597, the most famous of whom was Paul Miki.

After their martyrdom, their blooded clothes were kept and held in reverence by their fellow Christians. The period of persecution continued for another 35 years, many new witness-martyrs being added to their number.

The place of Nagasaki in the history of Christianity in Japan adds additional poignancy to the story of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945.

The Japanese city of Kokura was the initial target for the crew members of the B-29 bomber Bockscar. But low visibility that day forced them to abandon their mission. They were flying low, scanning for an opening in the clouds, when they found a clear patch of sky unexpectedly.

Below them lay the city of Nagasaki and the massive Mitsubishi arms factory. They decided they had found the target for the world’s most powerful weapon, a 4.5-ton plutonium bomb nick-named ‘Fat Man’ – the Hiroshima bomb was known as ‘Little Boy.’

The bomb that day killed tens of thousands of people and wiped out the city in an instant. Just 500 metres from ground zero was Urakami Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

This cathedral had been at the heart of a vibrant Catholic community that dates back to Nagasaki’s early days as a trading port and the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier and other Christian missionaries in the 16th century. For centuries, generations of Christians in Nagasaki had been tortured, banished, and executed and forced to practice their faith in secrecy until the ban on Christianity was lifted in 1873.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was built between 1895 and 1925. The bomb on 9 August 1945 fell on Nagasaki just 20 years after Urakami Cathedral had been completed. The priest and several parishioners who were inside at the time were destroyed along with much of the church’s memories and history.

The cathedral has since been rebuilt and in recent years a small piece of that history was returned to the cathedral: a cross, mostly forgotten, had been taken from the rubble and Walter Hooke, a former US Marine.

Hooke gave the cross to Wilmington College, a Quaker-run liberal arts college in rural south-west Ohio, where the Peace Resource Centre houses reference materials related to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The centre was set up in 1975 by the late Barbara Reynolds, an American Quaker and anti-nuclear activist who died in 1990.

How did Hooke come across the cross? He had been stationed in Nagasaki after the bombing. Hooke was a devout Catholic and arrived in Nagasaki in October 1945. He developed a friendship with Aijiro Yamaguchi, then the Bishop of Nagasaki. Hooke’s son told the Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, that the Bishop gave Hooke the cross, perhaps in the hope that it might change Americans’ perceptions of the bomb.

‘One of the things that always really bothered my father was that a Christian country bombed a cathedral that was a centre of Christianity in Asia,’ Christopher Hooke said at his home in Yonkers, New York. ‘There was absolutely no strategic value in the bombing of Nagasaki. I think that was the point.’

Hooke died in 2010 at the age of 97, and the cross remained in Wilmington for decades. But on 6 August 2019, on the 74th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Tanya Maus, director of the Peace Resource Centre at Wilmington College, gave the cross to the Archbishop of Nagasaki.

Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami was exposed to radiation in the womb while his mother was pregnant in Nagasaki.

Dr Maus decided to return the cross after she read a report in the Asahi Shimbun that the Nagasaki Peace Association had been trying to locate the cross for 30 years.

Dr Maus contacted Church officials in Nagasaki in April. ‘I started to think about the idea of ‘should it really be here?’ Maybe it needs to be in Nagasaki, where people can sort of explore that history more and the meaning of the cross more.’

‘For me the cross represents human depravity. The utter stripping away of values, in this case Christian values, but it could be any values, that keep human beings from killing each other and destroying each other,’ she was quoted as saying in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. ‘Part of giving it back was letting go of that and making it accessible to people who want to find their own meaning in it.’

‘Atomic bomb victims will die, but the cross will remain as a living witness to what happened in Nagasaki,’ Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki said when he received from the cross from Dr Maus on Wednesday.

‘The cross is an embodiment of the brutality of war,’ Dr Maus said. ‘The cross is a cry to the US government and governments of other countries that possess nuclear weapons to stop the use of nuclear weapons,’ she said after handing over the cross to Archbishop Takami in Urakami Cathedral.

Dr Maus said the cross will be displayed alongside the head of a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary known as the ‘Bombed Mary,’ whose glass eyes were melted by the atomic bomb.

Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki (centre) receives the cross that survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki from Tanya Maus (right) of Wilmington College, Ohio, at Urakami Cathedral, with Chitose Fujita, a member of the cathedral congregation (Photograph: Masaru Komiyaji / Asahi Shimbun)

Mark 6: 53-56 (NRSVA):

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Saint Francis Xavier among the Jesuit saints … a fresco in the former Jesuit church in the Crescent, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Christianity in Pakistan.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Nathan Olsen.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for the bishops of Pakistan. May their faith sustain and encourage one another in difficult times and be an inspiration to their church communities.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

A sermon for Nagasaki Day, 9 August 2020, shared by USPG

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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