Hiroshima A-bomb survivors hope pope’s visit will have world consider nuclear issues

(by Michiko Tanaka and Junji Akechi, Staff Writers)

The Vatican formally announced September 13 that Pope Francis would visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those in Hiroshima have welcomed the news in hopes that his visit will be a turning point toward a world without nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament is at a standstill as the United States and Russia, which are nuclear superpowers, are competing against each other in modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Since the pope has been calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, A-bomb survivors and young people have high expectations for the messages he will deliver from the A-bombed cities.

“I have been looking forward to the announcement,” said Toshiyuki Mimaki, 77, the acting chair of Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo). “Political leaders all over the world will give careful attention to the pope’s words. I hope his message will provide an opportunity for countries around the world to steer their ways toward nuclear disarmament.”

Mr. Mimaki’s strong desire reflects his concern that the conflict between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states has been escalating over the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. “The nuclear abolition movement is fighting an uphill battle. We pin our last hopes on the impact of the pope’s message.”

The Vatican has already signed and ratified the treaty. Kazuo Okoshi, 79, the secretary general of another Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, which is chaired by Kunihiko Sakuma, said, “I want the pope to refer to the significance of the treaty in his speech. It would give a big impact on countries that are against the treaty, including Japan.”

Pope Francis’s visit to Japan will be the first by a pope in 38 years since the late Pope John Paul II came to the country in February 1981. Koharu Matsuda, 16, a second-year student at the high school attached to Hiroshima University, said, “I am very happy that the pope will listen directly to A-bomb survivors.” Ms. Matsuda, a resident of Minami Ward, Hiroshima, is a High School Peace Ambassador and involved in a signature drive calling for nuclear abolition. She had a chance to see Pope Francis during his General Audience in Vatican in June. Since it is believed that there are more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world, she said, “I hope many people will be inspired and visit Hiroshima from overseas and understand what the actual result of the atomic bombing was like.”

Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama, 57, of the Diocese of Hiroshima, has been making arrangements for welcoming the pope in Hiroshima. “Considering his advanced age and tight schedule, I was afraid that he might not be able to come to Hiroshima,” he said with a smile during an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun. “I hope his visit will encourage people in Hiroshima who hope for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

(Originally published on September 14, 2019)