Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Catholic Holocaust in Nagasaki Japan, August 9, 1945

I never had an inkling that there was a great Catholic story to be told about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki Japan until I read this article The Story of Takashi Nagai: Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb. The story of the Japanese Catholics at Nagasaki and what many believe to be their sacrificial deaths that helped bring about the end of the war in the Pacific is jaw dropping. The Nagasaki Cathedral of Mary burst into flames at the same time that the Japanese Emperor decided to surrender.

Part of the intense interest for me is that this history includes saints who were widely separated in space and time: St. Francis Xavier, Spanish Jesuit missionary in 1549, the St. Paul Miki and the twenty-six martyrs of Nagasaki in 1597, and Marian Franciscan missionary, St. Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe is best known for his offering of himself in a Nazi death camp to save the life of another prisoner, but he is beloved by Japanese Catholics for his intense missionary activity in Nagasaki during the 30s. The intercession of St. Kolbe after his death in 1941 brought about the miraculous healing of one of the bomb victims, Takashi Nagai, who by his books and speaking has brought a message of sacrificial suffering, forgiveness, and peace to many in Japan after the war. To this day, while the people of Hiroshima remember the bombing there with bitterness, the people of Nagasaki remember their bombing without rancor.
"One of the regular participants in 1985 expressed the difference in this way:'Hiroshima is bitter, noisy, highly political, leftist and anti-American. Its symbol would be a fist clenched in anger. Nagasaki is sad, quiet, reflective, nonpolitical and prayerful. It does not blame the United States but rather laments the sinfulness of war, especially of nuclear war. Its symbol: hands joined in peace.'"

The article tells about Takashi Nagai, Catholic convert from Buddhism and radiation scientist who was hurt badly in the bomb blast, until a small voice (perhaps his guardian angel) told him that he should pray to Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe had left Japan 9 years earlier, and none of the Japanese Catholics had known his fate.

Devotion to Mary is also a major theme in the series of events narrated in the article, as is the feast of the Assumption of Mary. St. Francis Xavier arrived in Nagasaki on August 15. "Exactly four hundred years later in Nagasaki on August 15, 1949—and exactly four years after Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945—there would be a great celebration of Japan’s evangelization by this great preacher, with high Church officials and a delegate from Pope Pius XII in attendance." And St. Maximiiian Kolbe's death on August 14, 1941 was followed by his body's immolation in the Auschwitz ovens on August 15.

On August 9, 1945, God’s inscrutable providence allowed an atomic bomb named “Fat Man” to be dropped from a B-29 into the heavily populated city of Nagasaki. The epicenter of the blast was the Urakami district, the heart and soul of Catholicism in Japan since the sixteenth century.

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