JAPAN’S CATHOLIC CAPITAL AT THE CENTER OF FRANCIS’ AGENDA – Pope calls for nuclear-free world in Nagasaki

– Marco Carvalho
in Nagasaki

The visit lasted less than a day, but it was in Nagasaki that the Pope issued the most important pleas he made in his sojourn in Japan. At the Peace Park, a few meters away from the exact place where the atomic bomb that nearly eradicated the city fell, the Holy Father called for an end to the investment and acquisition of nuclear weapons. On Nishizaka Hill, Francis recalled the courage and the example of the 26 martyrs that were crucified there in 1597. The Pope wants governments to grant their citizens religious freedom, so that no one else has to die for their faith.

Pope Francis took, on Sunday,  his personal campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the only cities in the world to have suffered atomic bombings. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holy Father classified the use of nuclear energy for military purposes as “a crime,” saying that the use of such weapons against humanity and nature is immoral.

In Nagasaki, under a severe storm, the Holy Father urged world leaders to give up nuclear weapons. In an address at the Peace Park, a few meters away from the exact point where the only plutonium bomb ever detonated exploded on 9 August 1945, the Supreme Pontiff recalled “the indescribable horror suffered by the victims” and criticized the false dichotomy adopted by the world’s leading powers, who seem eager to ensure the maintenance of peace and stability through a rampant arms race: “Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust,” the Pope said in a somber voice, amid driving rain and strong wind. “Such a dichotomy ends up poisoning relations between peoples and preventing any possible dialogue,” Francis further claimed.

Convinced that a world without nuclear weapons is not only possible, but also urgent, Francis told the world leaders that the possession of weapons of mass destruction does not foster peace and does not protect the nations against “current threats to national and international security”: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,” the Pope said.

Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro, who traveled to Nagasaki to attend the Pope’s mass at the city’s baseball stadium, considers that the appeal made by the Holy Father was undeniably relevant, having in mind that it was delivered in a city where one of the biggest atrocities committed by Humanity was inflicted: “This is a message that, in my opinion, is very relevant. It comes in Pope John Paul II’s footsteps, who also said no to nuclear weapons. We are once again confronted with the risk of nuclear war and this is a message that must be repeated, not least because thirty years have passed since a Pope’s visited Japan,” the architect told O Clarim.

A teacher at the University of Saint Joseph,  Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro traveled to Japan with Francisco Almeida, a student of the Portuguese Catholic University who is in Macau as in exchange student.

Having seen the Pope in Krakow on  the 2016 edition of the World Youth Day, having been in Fatima in 2017 and having visited the Vatican last Easter, the path of the Portuguese youngster crossed once again with the Supreme Pontiff in Southern Japan, in an encounter that had the power to reveal the difficulties the Japanese Catholics face and the real dimension of Christianity in Japan: “This visit opened my eyes to this reality that is Japan in terms of Catholicism. In Japan, only 0.5 percent of the population is Catholic. I confess that I did not know it was so and I am quite impressed. It made me realize that we need to pray for the people of Japan. I will be back to Portugal in December and I will tell my friends to pray for Japan,” Francisco Almeida told O Clarim.

Martyrdom and faith in the martyr-city

Seen by many as the capital of Japanese Catholicism, Nagasaki conquered a place in the history of the Catholic Church on February 5, 1597, the day the so-called “26 Martyrs of Japan” were crucified on Nishizaka Hill. After the appeal that was made in the Peace Park, Pope Francis prayed before the relics of St Paul Miki, the first Japanese to join the Society of Jesus, and urged governments around the world to work so that the can ensure the religious freedom of the populations they serve.

In Nagasaki, the contrast with the dense, fetid heat of Bangkok could hardly be more unfathomable. Last Sunday, Nagasaki woke up cloaked in a winter mood, an avid and persistent flood breaking from the sky. On Nishizaka Hill, the Holy Father was welcomed by Domenico Vitali,  the Jesuit director of the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum and Monument, and received a flower arrangement from a family that has preserved the Catholic faith in secret for countless generations. The Pope recalled the sacrifice of the thousands of devotees who were persecuted in Japan’s religious wars, but claimed that “more than death, the Shrine of the Twenty-six Martyrs speaks to us about life”: “When he visited this place, Saint John Paul II saw it not only as the Mount of Martyrs, but also as a true Mount of the Beatitudes, a place where we can capture the testimony of men filled with the Holy Spirit, freed from selfishness, comfort and pride. Here the light of the Gospel shines in the love that triumphed over persecution and the sword,” the Holy Father exclaimed.

For Yasuyoshi Sotowa, his daughter Machiko Kojima and his granddaughter Kaho Kojima, the moment of devotion they all shared with the Holy Father is an incentive to keep their faith alive for centuries to come. The patriarch of the family who secretly preserved the Catholic faith by transforming it in a family heirloom, congratulated himself for the opportunity to meet the Pontiff: “I am glad that I have had the opportunity to meet the Pope in the company of my daughter and my granddaughter,” Yasuyoshi Sotowa told reporters, minutes after the ceremony was over.

The Pope headed for Nagasaki Baseball Stadium, where he celebrated Mass. In the afternoon, Francisco traveled to Hiroshima, another Japanese city devastated by a nuclear bomb, where he presided over a peace meeting.

With over 126 million inhabitants, Japan currently has 536,000 Catholics, the equivalent to 0.42 percent of the country’s total population.