By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The world is remembering what happened in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki on 9 August that same year.
On 3 August Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs posted a pre-recorded webcast entitled “Catholics Commemorate 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.
The current Bishop of Nagasaki and President of the Japanese Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Mitsuaki Takami, contributed to the webcast. He explains the consequences the people suffered on the 6th and 9th August, and on the days, months and years that followed.
Loss of life
Bishop Takami recounts that he was born in March of 1946. He was unborn at the time the atom bomb struck. Therefore, he himself did not witness the destruction firsthand. However, numerous members of his family suffered from burns which proved fatal: his maternal grandmother “died a painful death after one week without receiving medical attention”; two other aunts were never found, another married aunt was never found and her husband died as well; another aunt, a woman religious, was outside at the time of the explosion and died after twelve days of agonizing pain due to exposure to the heat the bomb produced; a cousin developed symptoms and died 14 years later at age 17. This story was repeated for thousands of families living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Loss of faith
Twenty-four parisioners were on their way to Urakami Church that fatal day. They sought the consolation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in view of the 15 August celebration of the Feast of the Assumption. They, along with approximately 8,500 people, of a total of 12,000 parishioners, died in the months that followed.
Loss of future
Survivors continued to be scarred not only physically by other forms of torments as well. Those who had been badly burned were shunned by those who were “scared” of them. Others would experience discrimination, Bishop Takami recounts. Some were rejected as a marriage partners because it was thought that radiation poisoning was genetically transmittable. To this day, the Bishop says, people continue to suffer from the effects of the radiation they were exposed to.
Worst effect: loss of trust
It is Dr Takashi Nagai, author of The Bells of Nagasaki, and a Catholic radiologist, who described the “worst effect of the atomic bomb: ‘the loss of trust in humanity’.”