Catholic Diocese of Hiroshima to mark 100th anniversary in May next year: Renews resolve to deliver message of peace

Series of celebratory events to be held explaining history of diocese in A-bombed Hiroshima

by Yu Yamada, Staff Writer

With jurisdiction over the five prefectures in the Chugoku region of Japan, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hiroshima, in the city’s centrally located Naka Ward, will hold a series of events in celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the diocese’s founding in May of next year. Masses and lectures will be held at different sites throughout the year. Diocese Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama has renewed his resolve to “continue playing the role of communicating a message of peace to society as a diocese based in Hiroshima, the city that suffered the atomic bombing.”

In the morning of September 18, around 150 people including local adherents gathered at the Catholic Yonago Church, located in Yonago City, Tottori Prefecture. The regular Sunday Mass also marked the beginning of the special year for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Hiroshima. Together with Bishop Shirahama, who had made the long trip from Hiroshima, the group recited passages and words of prayer from the Bible.

Bishop Shirahama said to the audience, “In the journey of your faith life, you will experience hardships and difficulties. But if you always keep Jesus in your heart during such storms, you will ultimately reach your destination.”

The Apostolic Vicariate of Hiroshima, the predecessor to the Diocese of Hiroshima, was established in 1923. It was initially based in Okayama and had 1,309 members. The base then moved to Hiroshima in 1939. Six years later, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.

In the horrific aftermath of the atomic bombing, priests at the Jesuit Novitiate at Nagatsuka, located in Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward, dedicated themselves to aiding the wounded. Led by the late-Father Pedro Arrupe, rector of the novitiate, the novitiate took in and attended to about 200 wounded. Hideaki Takeuchi, 50, congregant and a member of the committee in charge of compiling the 100th anniversary history of the diocese, said, “I’ve heard that anybody who had sought help at the time was taken in by the novitiate.”

Since then, the Diocese of Hiroshima has placed peace-seeking activities as the centerpiece of its activities. Priests who experienced the atomic bombing at the Noboricho Church, in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward, collected donations from Japan and overseas with which was built the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace based on the wish to console the souls of A-bomb victims. The cathedral received two papal visits, with each of the Popes communicating the preciousness of peace to the world.

Bishop Shirahama said, “To realize peace, we will continue to move ahead with the roughly 20,000 adherents in the diocese.” In connection with the 100th anniversary, a Mass to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the cathedral’s reconstruction, to be held at the Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church, in Yamaguchi Prefecture on April 24 next year, will also be positioned as an event associated with the anniversary of the diocese’s founding. The conclusion of the anniversary year will be marked by a Mass at the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace scheduled for September 18 next year.

Continue calling for elimination of nuclear weapons—Draw closer to the hearts of individuals

Bishop Shirahama’s message in this anniversary year

The year celebrating our 100th anniversary has begun. While thanking God for leading us to this point, the celebration will lead us on to the next steps for considering what we can do for society. We will make this year a time to contemplate the ways we can achieve that goal.

What we have valued more than anything as the Diocese of Hiroshima is to continue conveying our message of hope for a peaceful world. To prevent another tragedy caused by the use of nuclear weapons, a succession of priests and adherents has shared the belief over many years that we need to continue raising our voice as the diocese, which includes the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.

Thus far, we have welcomed two Popes to Hiroshima. There are very few dioceses in the world that have been so blessed by papal visits.

First, on February 25, 1981, John Paul II visited us. The appeal for peace he delivered at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in the city’s Naka Ward, began with the sentence “War is the work of man.” With that, his message implored human beings to avoid war and achieve peace.

On November 24, 2019, Pope Francis made a strong appeal for peace in Hiroshima when he said, “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

At the time of that visit, I had already begun my work as bishop of the diocese. The Pope spoke with me after he finished his speech. I was so nervous that I failed to understand what he said to me, but I intuited that he was encouraging me to “work for peace.” I still cherish that feeling. The next year, we launched the Nuclear-Free World Foundation through partnership with the Diocese of Nagasaki and others, an effort we decided to initiate as a result of the Pope’s visit.

Meanwhile, when considering how far we have come in our efforts to contribute to society as a church, I do not believe we have achieved enough. It is a given to warmly welcome all those who seek peace of mind, but beyond that we need to convey our message more proactively.

The Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible contains the passage “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Those words express the importance of pursuing peace when living as a child of God.

We will continue to call on nations throughout the world to oppose war and eliminate nuclear weapons, but we also need to turn our gaze to the hearts and souls of all people. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a problem caused by the hearts of politicians who gave the order to invade as well as of their supporters. It is important for each of us to be at peace in our own heart. To communicate that message is something we can contribute to society as Christians.

(Originally published on October 10, 2022)