What will Pope Francis speak about in the A-bombed cities?: His visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki scheduled for November 24

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

On November 24, Pope Francis will make a visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two A-bombed cities in Japan. It’s the first visit to the area by a sitting pope since Pope John Paul, II offered his Appeal for Peace in Hiroshima, in February of 1981. What message the current Pope will issue in the A-bombed city has drawn speculation. The significance of the pope’s visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is also generating attention, considering Pope Francis garners great trust among the world’s Catholics, and that he is known for advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Chugoku Shimbun took a look at these questions, via testimony of those who know him personally, and those who experienced a visit by the late Pope John Paul, II 38 years ago.

Interview with Renzo De Luca, Jesuit Social Center Staff of Japan

Nuclear weapons are a symbol of war and violence

Renzo De Luca, 56, of the Jesuit Social Center Staff of Japan, is from Argentina the same country as Pope Francis. Mr. De Luca is also familiar with the pope’s personality having been instructed by Pope Francis while a student many years ago. In our interview, Mr. De Luca answered questions related the pope’s considerable interest in the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the significance of his visit to the A-bombed cities at this time.

The Pope has repeatedly made an appeal for the elimination of nuclear weapons since he assumed the papacy in 2013. What drives him so much in this sense?
Nuclear weapons indiscriminatingly kill civilians and children, and destroy the natural environment. I assume the pope considers nuclear arms as symbol of war and violence. He also expressed this belief by distributing a photo of a boy standing at crematory after the atomic bombing. [It is said the photo may have been taken in Nagasaki.] In the photo, the boy is seen holding his younger brother’s body over his back while awaiting cremation. I imagine he must have been burdened with the death of his young brother his entire life. I think that photo represents the atrocity of the atomic bombing better than any picture showing ravaged dead bodies.

What do you think is the origin of the pope’s strong interest in the suffering caused by war and violence?
“Peace” is absolutely the cornerstone of Catholicism, but I assume his experience serving as provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina under the military rule from 1976 to 1983 may have impacted his faith. Conditions at the time could be likened to civil war, and priests who supported poor people were sometimes abducted or killed. [In all, 30,000 people are considered missing or dead because of the oppressive efforts of the government.]

When things in Argentina recovered, victims of that oppression criticized him saying, “There must have been things he could have done to stand up more to the government at that time.” I am sure he must have taken as much action as possible given the weight on his conscience. One thing I can say is there is no “right” choice that exists when you’re in in the worst situation possible. In situations like that, everyone is forced to be involved in the tragedy. The same goes for war and nuclear weapons. The pope’s words calling for peace are backed by his actual experience.

What do you think is the significance of the pope’s current planned visit to the A-bombed cities?
The visit will mean to deny not only nuclear weapons but also war itself. I am eager for his visit, and expect he will speak words that can be delivered only because of his presence in the city of Hiroshima—just like the message delivered by the late John Paul, II. It’s also important we accept his message and put it into action instead of handling his visit as simply an event.

You have received direct instructions from the pope (then a priest) while at the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel, Argentina from 1983 to 1985; the school where he served as rector. What was he like?
At that time, he was in a position of supervising about 100 theological students around the age of twenty. Normally, a person in that post has no direct interactions with students. However, he dared to work in the kitchen and take the role of advisor so he could have a chance to talk with each of the students.

What sort of instructions did he provide to you?
We were told not to wait at the church but to go and see people. So, on weekends, we went out to the poor neighborhood. While offering meals and teaching the Bible to people in that community, we could learn a lot from their life. I also heard that the pope put up a tent in the slums, conducted a mass, or maybe even held a wedding ceremony there when he was bishop. There is a direct link from this past behavior to his behavior of proactively visiting foreign countries today.

Renzo De Luca
Born in Argentina in 1963. Mr. De Luca joined the Society of Jesus in 1981 and studied at the theological academy where Pope Francis (then, Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio) served as president. After coming to Japan in 1985, he was ordained and moved to Nagasaki in 1996. He served as director of the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki for many years before transitioning to his current role at the Jesuit Social Center in 2017.

The pope’s previous visit to Hiroshima took place in 1981, leaving strong impressions regarding Appeal for Peace

An A-bomb survivor said, “I could feel the warmth from his heart and tears naturally welled up in my eyes”

“War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life,” Pope John Paul, II said in his Appeal for Peace at Hiroshima in a light snowfall on February 25 in 1981. His voice echoed throughout the park as he read in the Japanese he had repeatedly practiced, leaving a strong impression among the crowd of 25,000 citizens and Catholics who gathered to hear his message.

“I could feel the warmth from his heart and tears naturally welled up in my eyes,” said Setsuko Hattori, 88, an A-bomb survivor and Catholic living in Naka Ward, recalling the pope’s visit. That day Ms. Hattori was in front of the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound where the remains of about 70,000 unclaimed A-bomb victims are held. She had prayed at the mound many times, believing it was a place under which her A-bombed father, Yoshito Yasuda, was in an eternal sleep. Mr. Yasuda’s remains still have not been found. She attentively listened to the pope’s voice, wondering if his message was delivered to her father in heaven, too.

After the close of the war, Ms. Hattori became associated with the Catholic Church. Ever since, praying for the A-bomb victims has given her strength. After the pope’s visit to Hiroshima, she began to talk about her own A-bomb experience to students visiting Hiroshima for school trips. She talks about losing her father and of the Hiroshima landscape engulfed in flame—everything she saw that day. She expressed her expectations for the upcoming visit, saying “Last time, the pope encouraged us to keep calling for peace. I am sure this visit would he will give us similar encouragement.”

In 1981, Pope John Paul, II stayed in Hiroshima for six hours. While in the city, he followed his schedule to the minute. The announcement of the appeal, the touring of the Peace Memorial Museum, and a special lecture session were all right on schedule. The pope’s every move tends to garner much attention from those in western nations. At the time, about 200 journalists gathered in Hiroshima from overseas, including approximately 50 accompanying reporters.

Shinji Saito, 78, a Catholic priest who responded to the media as the person in charge of public relations, looked back the event and said with a bitter smile, “Since I was caught up in dealing with the media, I didn’t have time to look around for details.” However, he does recall the fondness by which international journalists stationed at the press center (now the International Conference Center Hiroshima) spoke of about the excellence of the appeal.

More than 3,000 believers from in- and outside Hiroshima Prefecture packed the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace at the Catholic Church in Nobori-cho, at the time. Since that visit from Pope John Paul, II the people’s awareness about the Catholic Church has increased significantly in Hiroshima. Mr. Saito said, “Thanks to the visit, I was able to have greater reach in my role as a priest opposing war in Hiroshima.” That experience helped him form a foundation, and he holds mass for the atomic bomb victims on August 6 every year.

Remembering the great attention paid to the pope by western media, as well as the pope’s delivery of his speech in nine languages, Shoichi Fujii, 81, a former city official living in Naka Ward, said, “I was made aware of exactly how important it was to address an international message from the A-bombed city.” Mr. Fujii, who was busily engaged in preparing for the previous visit as the assistant director of the Hiroshima city’s International Affairs Department, said he had always kept that experience in mind even later in life when engaged in other jobs such as bringing the Asian Games to Hiroshima, or translating the Hiroshima Peace Declaration.

The present international condition on elimination of nuclear weapons has grown increasingly severe as seen in the retrogression of nuclear disarmament efforts by the United States and Russia. Mr. Fujii said, “Nuclear tragedy could happen anywhere in the world. It should never be repeated. Whether our desperate wish in this A-bombed city can be communicated to the pope will be tested in the upcoming visit.” On the evening of November 24 this year, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and participate in the gathering with the A-bomb survivors.

Summary of Appeal for Peace at Hiroshima

- War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death.
- I wanted to make this visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial out of a deep personal conviction that to remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.
- I bow my head as I recall the memory of thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives in that one terrible moment, or who for long years carried in their bodies and minds those seeds of death which inexorably pursued their process of destruction. The final balance of the human suffering that began here has not been fully drawn up.
- Others might wish to regard nuclear capacity as an unavoidable means of maintaining a balance of power through a balance of terror. But there is no justification for not raising the question of the responsibility of each nation and each individual in the face of possible wars and of the nuclear threat.
- Since that fateful day, nuclear stockpiles have grown in quantity and in destructive power. Even if a mere fraction of the available weapons were to be used, one has to ask whether the inevitable escalation can be imagined.
- To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.
- One must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable.
-Let us not repeat the past, a past of violence and destruction. Let us embark upon the steep and difficult path of peace, the only path that befits human dignity.
-To the Heads of State and of Government, to those who hold political and economic power, I say: let us take a solemn decision, now, that war will never be tolerated or sought as a means of resolving differences; let us promise our fellow human beings that we will work untiringly for disarmament and the banishing of all nuclear weapons.
-To every man and woman in this land and in the world, I say: let there never be another war. To young people everywhere, I say: bring justice where injustice reigns and peace where only weapons speak.
- O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world your everlasting peace.


Roman Catholic Church
One of the Christian churches that acknowledges the pope as its head. It is said to have about 1.2 billion believers worldwide. A cardinal is the highest-ranking clergyman next to the pope. At this point in time, there are, globally, 213 cardinals. About 2,500 churches (dioceses) exist in the world, and a diocesan bishop is responsible for each church. Japan has 16 dioceses including Hiroshima. There are also a variety of orders where monks live together and are engaged in education and voluntary activities. Jesuits like St. Francis Xavier who introduced Christianity to Japan first time established the Society of Jesus. The present pope is originally from the Society of Jesus as well.

(Originally published on September 23, 2019)