09 August 2019

A lost cross returns to
Nagasaki as a sign of
peace in a nuclear age

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

Patrick Comerford

Nagasaki is often forgotten in the days immediately after we commemorate the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

But today [9 August] marks the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the second use of nuclear weapons in modern warfare.

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 suffered persecution and adversity. They 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 now, 74 years later, a small piece of that history has been 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, now 69, 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 earlier this week, on Tuesday [6 August], the 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. According to the Japan Times, the cross will be on display in time for a Mass in the cathedral today marking the 74th anniversary of the bombing.

Pope Francis is expected to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Archbishop Takami hopes he will visit the cathedral and see the cross for himself.

Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki (centre) receives the cross that survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki from Tanya Maus (right) of Wilmington College in Ohio, at Urakami Cathedral on Wednesday, with Chitose Fujita, a member of the cathedral congregation (Photograph: Masaru Komiyaji / Asahi Shimbun, 2019)

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