Pope’s speech, conveyed with love, is etched into heart of Catholic A-bomb survivor

by Yuichi Ishii, Staff Writer

“I’m so happy I could welcome the Pope to Hiroshima two times,” said Setsuko Hattori, 88, a Catholic A-bomb survivor and resident of Hakushima Kita-machi, Naka Ward. She watched Pope Francis on television from her home as he delivered his speech from Hiroshima. With one hand quietly placed upon the other, she nodded every now and then as she listened to the Pope speak. Ms. Hattori mulled over his words, delivered from the A-bombed city, as she did 38 years ago when Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Hiroshima.

Ms. Hattori was 14 when she experienced the atomic bombing while at home, at the same location where her current house stands, 1.7 kilometers north of the hypocenter. Her father, Yoshito Yasuda, had been headed to the heart of the city that day, but his remains were never found. After the war, Ms. Hattori was introduced to Christianity and offering prayers for the A-bomb victims strengthened her spirit and enabled her to keep moving forward with her life.

Still, she avoided talking about her A-bomb experience. “These are cruel memories,” she said, “so I wanted to forget.” A turning point came 38 years ago in connection with the visit by Pope John Paul II. As a member of a choir, Ms. Hattori was in front of the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a spot she had visited many times before. As she listened to the Pope speak, she felt that his voice was reaching her late father, too.

“Pope John Paul II’s presence encouraged me to appeal for peace,” Ms. Hattori said. After that, she began talking to students who came to Hiroshima on school trips, telling them about the sorrow of losing her father and the catastrophic conditions she witnessed as she sought refuge.

Ms. Hattori said, “Pope Francis’s smiling face is full of love.” The strong message he sent out, and the warmth he exuded through the TV screen, were etched in her mind. “He spoke about a lot of important things. I hope young people will take in his message and make efforts for peace.”

(Originally published on November 25, 2019)