09 August 2019

Remembering the ministry
of women and the victims
of war and racism

A fading rose on the fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau; behind is one of the watchtowers and a train wagon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Mothers’ Union from parishes throughout the Dioceses of Limerick celebrated Mary Sumner Day earlier today with coffee in the afternoon at Curraghchase.

Mary Sumner (1828-1921), the founder of the Mothers’ Union, is commemorated in many provinces of the Anglican Communion on 9 August, although some researchers claim the actual date of her death was 11 August.

Today is also the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which I was marking with a blog posting earlier this morning.

In many parts of the Roman Catholic Church, today also recalls Edith Stein (1891-1942), the Polish-German Jewish philosopher who became a Roman Catholic and a Carmelite nun, and who was murdered in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

Edith Stein was born to an observant Jewish family in Breslau (Wroclaw), Poland, to Jewish parents, on Yom Kippur, 12 October 1891. As a child, her parents encouraged her to critical thinking, and when she was in her teens she declared herself to be an atheist.

She studied philosophy at the University of Göttingen and after completing her doctoral thesis on the ‘Problem of Empathy’ under Edmund Husserl, she became his teaching assistant in the University of Freiburg in 1916.

She was on holiday in 1921 in Bad Bergzabern, on the border with France, when she first read the autobiography the Carmelite mystic of Saint Teresa of Avila, who was born into a family that had been forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism. She became Christian, and she was baptised into the Roman Catholic church in 1922. She continued to teach, lecture and write until the Nazis introduced laws that barred people of Jewish birth and ancestry from teaching.

Meanwhile, in the intervening decade, she had contemplated becoming a Carmelite nun. She entered the monastery in Cologne in 1933 and took the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Because of her Jewish ancestry and her writings against the Nazi, she was moved to a Carmelite monastery in Echt in the Netherlands. There she taught philosophy, literature and languages.

The Dutch Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a public statement read in churches on 20 July 1942 condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response on 26 July 1942, the Nazis ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts who had previously been spared. Along with 243 baptised Jews living in the Netherlands, Edith Stein was arrested by the SS on 2 August 1942. Stein and her sister Rosa were held in concentration camps in Amersfoort and Westerbork before being deported by convoy No 587 to Auschwitz on 7 August 1942.

Edith and Rosa were murdered in a mass gas chamber with all the Jews of the convoy, at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 9 August 1942.

She was beatified in Cologne in 1987 and was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1998, with 9 August as her feast day. Later, she was named a patron of Europe, alongside with Saint Benedict of Nursia, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena.

Critics of her canonisation argued she was murdered because she was Jewish by birth, rather than for her Catholic faith. Some critics suggested her canonisation carried ‘the tacit message encouraging conversionary activities.’ The Roman Catholic Church argued, however, that Saint Teresa Benedicta also died because of the Dutch bishops’ public condemnation of Nazi racism in 1942.

Today (9 August) is an appropriate day to remember the Holocaust and the horrors of war and of racism, to give thanks for the ministry of women, and to continue to pray for inter-faith dialogue:

O Prince of Peace, to all who receive you, you bright light and peace. Help me to live in daily contact with you, listening to the words you have spoken and obeying them. O Divine Child, I place my hands in yours; I shall follow you. Oh, let your divine life flow into me.

I will go unto the altar of God. It is not myself and my tiny little affairs that matter here, but the great sacrifice of atonement. I surrender myself entirely to your divine will, O Lord. Make my heart grow greater and wider, out of itself into the Divine Life.

O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve you. Enkindle your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me and I shall meet with peace.

How wondrous are the marvels of your love, we are amazed, we stammer and grow dumb, for word and spirit fail us.

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)