By Devin Watkins – Tokyo, Japan
Nuclear disarmament and Christian martyrdom.
Those two themes permeated Pope Francis’ message on Sunday.
He flew to the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, traveling more than 1,500 kilometers by plane.
Martyred for the faith
Driving rain greeted him in the city where Christians hid from persecution for over 250 years.
It was in Nagasaki Prefecture that Saint Francis Xavier found the most fertile Japanese soil for the seeds of Christianity to blossom, way back in 1550.
He converted thousands to Catholicism in just a few short months. Those same converts were forced to go underground as waves of persecution washed over them. They became known as “hidden Christians”.
As one of their descendants put it, their inheritance was the gift of faith.
In Nagasaki, Pope Francis braved pouring rain to pay homage to 26 of those Christians who refused to renounce their faith at the start of the anti-Christian persecution.
Their martyrdom, he said, is a witness that confirms us in our own faith.
May peace be with you
Peace formed the heart of the Pope’s second message for Sunday.
His itinerary worked backwards in respect to the detonations of the only two nuclear weapons used in war.
Hiroshima was hit first on August 6, 1945. Nagasaki was devastated three days later.
It was as if Pope Francis wanted to turn back the hands of time, to a moment when the awful power of splitting atoms to destroy and kill was unknown.
Immorality of nuclear weapons
Peace, he warned the world, is only possible without nuclear weapons.
The weather in Hiroshima was the best testament to how still and pure that peace can be.
But Pope Francis’ words took the place of the absent wind and pounded upon the ears of those who would listen.
“The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral,” he roared, despite his subdued voice.
Off-the-cuff, he added for the first time, “The possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.”
Pope Francis has drawn the line.
Now we must all decide which side we are on.