Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Pope at Hiroshima

In Hiroshima, Japan, where the first atomic bomb explosion occurred on Aug. 6, 1945 -- the Feast of the Transfiguration -- the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stands as part of a 122,100-square-meter peace park.

As you might imagine, the museum contains many touching testimonies to what happened on that day 65 years ago. But the first thing that we noticed when we visited in 1999 was a marble monument displaying words uttered there by Pope John Paul II in 1981:

War is the work of man.
War is destruction of human life.
War is death.
To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.
To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.
To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.

It was quite moving to me that the words of the Holy Father were given such prominence in a non-Christian country. Perhaps only later did it hit me that Hiroshima was one of the few cities in Japan with a substantial Catholic population, dating back to the work of Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The most important center of Japanese Catholicism, however, was nuked three days after Hiroshima -- the port city of Nagasaki, was founded by Portuguese Catholics in the late 16th century. After the Jesuits were driven out of Japan by persecution, underground Catholics around Nagasaki maintained a form of the faith without priests for more than 250 years until the Japan's ban on Christianity was lifted in the late 19th century.

Today the Catholic Church, though embraced by a small percentage of the population, is safely above ground throughout Japan, attested by churches, schools and universities. A Jesuit friend of ours from Cincinnati has served there for 58 years.

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