They were hearing confessions after Mass in Urakami Tenshudo, the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
It was getting very close to the Feast of the Assumption, so confessions were well-attended; there were thirty people there, and two clerics.
Their cathedral was a large one– Urakami Tenshudo was the largest Christian building in the Asia-Pacific region, at the time. It was just twenty years old. They had built it on the site where they were once persecuted; they used to be forced to tread on icons of Our Lord and Our Lady once a year, on that very spot. That wasn’t ancient history– it was still the practice less than a hundred years ago. They hadn’t been officially free to practice Christianity until seventy-four years ago– and here they were. All those centuries of persecution, the torture, the martyrdoms– there had been public crucifixions right in this city, but now that was over. The emperors had failed to wipe out Christianity in Japan. They had survived.
But they were all killed when the bomb struck.
I say “killed,” but that doesn’t convey what happened. They were incinerated. “Fat Man,” the second atomic bomb ever to be used in warfare, and by the mercy of God may it be the last– that bomb detonated over Nagasaki 500 meters from Urakami Tenshudo. The resulting heat wave was so strong it melted the crystal eyes of the statues; it burned everyone inside to ash. Then the cathedral, the monument to all the Catholics of Japan had endured and survived, collapsed, burying the remains.
About two hundred twenty-five thousand people died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s hard to give an exact number, because so many people were reduced to ash instantly and so many more died of their injuries later. And then there were all the cancers that resulted from the fallout, the babies born ill or deformed months after it happened. I don’t suppose anyone will ever know exactly how many people were murdered by those two bombs.
You can defend the mortal sin of deliberately targeting civilians in warfare all you want, but you’ll never erase the fact that thirty-two Japanese Catholics were incinerated at confession that day; that hundreds of thousands of others burned to death; that children were born with illnesses that claimed their lives, months after the event; that we’ll never know exactly how many people were murdered in the atomic bombing of Japan.
By the intercession of Our Lady of Urakami Tenshudo, we pray, never again.
(image via Wikimedia Commons)