History of Hiroshima : 1945-1995

History of Hiroshima: 1945-1995 (Part 14, Article 2)

The Memorial Cathedral for World Peace

by Masami Nishimoto, Staff Writer

Note: This article was originally published in 1995.

The Children’s Peace Monument and the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace were both built in the 1950s when the city was on the road to reconstruction. These landmarks are symbols of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima and were raised to help console the spirits of the A-bomb victims and renew the call for peace.

The life of Sadako Sasaki, the girl who served as the inspiration for the Children’s Peace Monument, has been featured in a number of books and films. However, the stories told in these books and films have taken on a life of their own over the years. At the same time, the presence of Father Hugo Lassalle, the late German cleric who was the force behind the construction of the cathedral, is known to a shrinking circle of people that includes mostly the church community itself. The passage of 50 years since the atomic bombing has led to the growth of legends as well as the withering of other truths.

Through records and testimonies of those who knew these two directly, the Chugoku Shimbun has traced the lives of the girl who has become a symbol of peace and the priest who has been largely forgotten. This effort was motivated by our belief that, in order to help stem the myth-making associated with the atomic bombing and prevent the reality of Hiroshima’s experience from fading away, we have no choice but to dig up the facts that have been buried beneath the thick layers of time.

Hugo Lassalle, forgotten “father” of Hiroshima cathedral

It was a tiny space the size of three tatami mats. The one-room structure, fashioned from galvanized iron sheets and wooden boards, served as both church, reception room, and then bedroom at night, with the occupant lying on a straw mat. The space under the altar, composed of merely a horizontal board, also served as a closet for the next morning’s necessities.

Four months after the atomic bombing, each day would dawn like this for Father Hugo Lassalle, who had returned to the site where his church once stood in the Noboricho district of Hiroshima.

“For supper we had rice cooked in a camping pot and a side dish of Japanese white radish,” recalled Father Hubert Cieslik, now 81 and a resident of Tokyo, as he spoke about life with Father Lassalle in the burnt ruins of the city as if it were yesterday. Father Cieslik was one of four German clergymen who came to Japan from the German order of the Society of Jesus before the war and experienced the atomic bombing while at the Noboricho Church. Today he is the only one who survives.

Father Cieslik said that some others in the order objected to Father Lassalle’s plan to build a new cathedral in Hiroshima after the bombing, calling the idea foolhardy and a pipe dream. But Father Lassalle ultimately realized his vision with the support he received in response to appeals made while traveling through the United States and European nations.

The Memorial Cathedral for World Peace was the brainchild of Father Lasselle, who entered the order of the Society of Jesus at the age of 20. He studied philosophy and theology in the United Kingdom and other places before coming to Japan in 1929. After serving as the head of the Japan order of the Society of Jesus, he assumed the stewardship of Noboricho Church in the year before war broke out between Japan and the United States. During the war, he was spared internment on the grounds that he was a cleric from Germany, an ally of Japan.

Father Lassalle was in his room on the second floor of the priests’ living quarters when the atomic bomb was dropped. Later he would write that everything around him seemed to explode. The windows shattered and fragments of flying glass pierced the whole surface of his back, and he suffered severe gashes to his left leg. Still, he rescued two caregivers from the attached kindergarten, which had collapsed. After fleeing the rising flames, he swooned to the ground.

As he was being carried on a stretcher to the Nagatsuka Monastery for Jesuits, located on the outskirts of the city, his stretcher accidentally pitched into a gutter. “Are we taking a break?” asked Father Lassalle, a moment of levity that reveals his natural good humor and has lived on to this day.

As soon as the pain of his wounds ebbed, Father Lassalle and Father Cieslik, who had returned to Hiroshima from Kobe, where he was recuperating from his own injuries, fashioned the new makeshift “church” at the church’s original site, despite disapproval from those around them.

Standing in the city, where the rubble from the bombing lay as far as the eye could see, a grand vision stirred in Father Lassalle’s heart: he would construct a church to comfort the souls of the A-bomb victims. Judging from recorded interviews with the priest and the accounts of those involved in the project, Father Lassalle apparently conceived of this dream less than a year after the atomic bombing took place.

In August of 1946, with determination in his heart, Father Lassalle traveled to Rome, by way of North America, to take part in a general assembly of the Society of Jesus. The gathering was held in September, with Father Lassalle representing the Japan order of the faith. En route to Rome, he stopped in New York and attended a news conference as the first A-bomb survivor to visit the United States. Father Lassalle indicated that he would appeal to the Pope for his support in reviving the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, and that he would convey the A-bomb experience to the whole world.

After the conference in Rome, Father Lassalle extended his “pilgrimage from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima” to other European nations as well as countries in South America, the trip lasting as long as a year and five months. During his travels, he also visited communities of Japanese emigrants in Brazil, where the vast majority had believed Japan won the war, and he explained to them what the reality was like in post-war Japan.

The “Paulista Newspaper,” a Brazilian newspaper printed in Japanese, provided a detailed account of a speech Father Lassalle delivered in Sao Paulo in July of 1947. The audience of 3,000 that packed the venue listened solemnly and keenly to every word the priest made. He shared the current conditions of life in Japan, ranging from his experience of the atomic bombing to the flourishing black market economy that had risen since the end of the war. Even after Father Lassalle was finished with his talk, the audience remained in their seats.

At the same time, some who had championed victory for Japan in the war branded Father Lassalle, who spoke fluent Japanese, a “spy for the United States” and would offer him no ear at all.

The devastation wrought in his own homeland, Germany, as a result of the Nazi regime, along with the fanaticism that he encountered in Brazil deepened Father Lasselle’s resolve to construct “a church that will serve as a foundation for world peace.” In 1947, the year following his return to Japan, he established a committee at Noboricho Church to support the cathedral project. Folding his tall frame into overnight trains and jeeps, the priest rushed from place to place in his fund-raising efforts.

Nobuko Fukuma was a member of the committee that oversaw the cathedral project. Now 69, she serves as the director of the “Community of Civitas Solis,” a vocational training center for the severely disabled in the town of Kurose in Hiroshima Prefecture. “Thanks to the Father’s efforts, Prince Takamatsu and Mr. Ikeda offered their cooperation,” she said.

“Mr. Ikeda” was Finance Minister Hayato Ikeda, who would later become the head of the supporters’ club for the construction of the cathedral. They were able to enlist his support through a connection with a Japanese emigrant to Brazil. While mechanisms for collecting contributions from home and abroad were put in place, donations gradually grew from Hiroshima citizens, 10 or 20 yen at a time, in response to appeals made by church followers and other supporters. At the time, the sounds of hammering were louder than ever in the city, which was now on the road to reconstruction.

It took a full four years to complete the cathedral, which was consecrated on August 6, 1954. The late Togo Murano, a pioneer of modernist architecture, who would later receive the Order of the Cultural Merit, designed the cathedral.

The cathedral, which was built from as many as 300,000 concrete blocks, is 52 meters long and 20 meters wide. Hanging in the 45-meter tower are four bells that were presented by a steel company in the former West Germany. These bells continue to ring their wishes for world peace each morning and evening.

Later, the Diocese of Hiroshima, which was established in 1960, took over the administration of the cathedral. With the priest of the Diocese of Hiroshima assuming oversight of the church on behalf of the Society of Jesus, Father Lassalle was forced to resign as parish priest of Noboricho Church. In 1968, he left Hiroshima for Tokyo with hardly a word. Right afterward, the decision was made to present the cleric with the title of Honorary Citizen of Hiroshima.

“He never shared his personal feelings, but he must have been bitterly disappointed when he was cut off from the cathedral. He had put his heart and soul into it.” Kakichi Kadowaki, 69, a professor of the Institute of Oriental Religions at Sophia University, where Father Lassalle served as an honorary member in Tokyo, sought to imagine the cleric’s emotions at the time. The fact that Father Lassalle had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism, provided training which included Zen meditation, and wrote a book about Zen did not please the leaders of the Catholic Church, Mr. Kadowaki explained. Father Lassalle became a casualty of this conflict of faith.

His interest in Zen is evidenced by the fact that he became a naturalized citizen of Japan four years after the end of the war and changed his name to “Makibi Enomiya,” a name that would sound old-fashioned even for someone who was Japanese. After the Noboricho Church was rebuilt, he slept on a one-tatami mat in the priests’ living quarters.

Later in life, Father Lassalle opened Shinmeikutu, a training hall for Zen meditation in the Akigawa Valley in Tokyo. With Shinmeikutu as a base, and while practicing Zen meditation himself, he made energetic trips to Europe where he taught Zen meditation techniques. He passed away during a visit to the former West Germany in July of 1990. He was 91 years old.

A bronze relief, oval-shaped and engraved with the words “Makibi Enomiya: Hugo Lassalle SJ” is embedded in the left wall of the altar inside the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace.

Father Lassalle, who dearly loved the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, never failed to visit on the anniversary of the atomic bombing and offer a prayer at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. His remains were returned to the cathedral four years ago. On the relief, the cleric’s wish is inscribed in a simple phrase: “Oremus pro pace mundi” (“I pray for peace”).

Five Peace Bells convey prayers of the A-bombed city

The Peace Bell tolls at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony at exactly 8:15 a.m. every August 6. Starting with the Hiroshima Peace Festival in 1947, the bell has conveyed the prayers of the A-bombed city to those at home and abroad. The current Peace Bell is actually the fifth one. What happened to the previous bells? The Chugoku Shimbun takes a look back at the forgotten Peace Bells.

“A bell from abroad is being sought, because the sound of a temple bell in Japan stirs feelings of the transience of life, and such feelings would not match the mood of the ceremony,” reported the Chugoku Shimbun on July 16, 1947, sharing preparations for the event by the Hiroshima Peace Festival Associations, comprised of the City of Hiroshima and other entities. The photo of the ceremony on August 6 clearly shows a Western-style bell that can be found in a church.

The bell was hung in a 10-meter-tall peace tower which stood in Jisenji-no-hana in the Nakajima Honmachi district, the site of today’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The bell was tolled the following year as well.

In 1949, the Hiroshima Copper Alloy Cast Association created a bell to mark the passage of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law and dedicated it to the city. The bell, shaped in a Western style, was cast from A-bombed metal and inscribed with the English words “No More Hiroshimas.” That year the peace ceremony was held in present-day Hiroshima City Chuo Park. The sound of the bell, housed in a steel-frame bell tower, echoed across the site.

However, the first bell, weighing 37.5 kilograms, was stolen in March of 1951 when demand for metal grew as a consequence of the Korean War and was never recovered. The second bell, too, was abandoned in its bell tower in Chuo Park and forgotten for many years. It was only in 1973 that the City of Hiroshima, reminded of the former Peace Bell by those who had been involved in its making, recalled the background of this second bell.

In 1952, the third Peace Bell rang at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. This bell, tolling in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for the first time, along with the unveiling of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, was borrowed from a temple in Hiroshima’s Nakahiro district. This third bell, which weighs 21.5 kilograms, is now preserved in a private home in Nishi Ward, Hiroshima. Inscribed on its surface are Chinese characters that mean “The bell that conveys world peace.”

The head priest of the temple which lent the bell for the ceremony, Hoken Oda, 90, is currently in the hospital, but his eldest son Masato, 66, revealed, “I heard that one of the followers of our temple was a city employee and that person asked my father to lend the bell to the city because they had been unable to borrow a bell from other temples due to the Buddhist memorial services that were taking place on August 6.”

Hiroshima Mayor Shinso Hamai is also thought to have played a part in securing the bell for the ceremony. Photos of subsequent ceremonies show that the third bell was tolled to mark the moment of the bombing for a span of 12 years, until 1963.

Hoken Oda established Kogenji Temple in the Nakahiro district while serving as a Buddhist monk of the Bukkoji School of Shin Buddhism after his discharge from military service. He lost three children to the atomic bombing, including his eldest daughter. The temple was razed by a fire in 1965, but father and son have preserved the bell as a treasured artifact of the temple.

The fourth peace bell was a fire bell borrowed from Kannon Temple in the Motoujina area in Minami Ward. Kannon Temple is part of the Rinzai School, a sect of Zen Buddhism. In 1967, the bell was replaced by the fifth bell, the one still currently used.

The fifth bell was created by the late Masahiko Katori, who was said to be a master maker of Buddhist temple bells and was later honored with the designation of Living National Treasure, and presented to the City of Hiroshima. The word “Peace,” originally written by former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida with a calligraphy brush, is carved in relief on the bell. The bell is normally preserved and exhibited in the east wing of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

(Originally published on December 16, 1995)