Catholic atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki share personal stories

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Catholic atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki share personal stories

The Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University hosts Archbishop Emeritus Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and a peace delegation from Japan with survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing on Sept. 28, 2022. The event, which included Mass, a presentation and Q & A session, gave guests an opportunity to reflect on the topic of peace and the impact of nuclear weapons in the context of the current intensifying threat of nuclear attacks. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Peter Ritsuo Hisashi, pastor of Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mitsuaki Takami and Father Bradley Zamora pray at the start of Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A view of Mass from the back of the chapel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Archbishop Takami delivers the homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sunshine highlights Katsuichi Hirano and Fusako Hirano. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Hisashi, Archbishop Takami and Father Zamora celebrate the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Hisashi, Archbishop Takami and Father Zamora celebrate the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Hisashi, Archbishop Takami and Father Zamora celebrate the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Zamora and Archbishop Takami distribute Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yuji Nishimura stands at the back of the chapel. At his feet is a case containing the cross replica. On the outside of the case is a sticker that says “War Is Not The Answer.” (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Archbishop Takami and Yuji Nishimura place the cross for display. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Katsuichi Hirano and Fusako Hirano look over notes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Archbishop Takami speaks to the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Peter Ritsuo Hisashi, pastor of Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, speaks to the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Fusako Hirano, who was four years old at the time of the bombing, holds up a copy of a newspaper clipping showing a clock that stopped when the bomb detonated. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yuji Nishimura explains how he made the replica. He is holding a photo of his recently deceased father, an atomic bomb survivor, who asked him to continue the replicas after he could no longer do it. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Katsuichi Hirano, who was 3 years old at the time of the bombing, shares his story. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Archbishop Takami points to a slide that shows a ceremony of the repatriation of the cross to Nagasaki in 2019. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A slide shows the remains of a statue of Mary found in the ruble of the cathedral following the bombing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945, Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami’s mother was three months pregnant with him. While she survived the bombing, much of her family did not.

His maternal grandmother suffered from horrific burns and bodily trauma for eight days before dying. Two of his maternal aunts died in the bombing. The body of one of his aunts was found; the other was not. Many of the dead were not found because the heat from the bomb incinerated anything close to the epicenter.

It is estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 people died in Nagasaki, either in the bombing or from exposure to radiation. In Hiroshima, Japan, it is estimated that 70,000 to 135,000 people died.

Archbishop Takami, now archbishop emeritus of Nagasaki, was part of a small peace delegation of atomic bomb survivors that visited the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University on Sept. 28 for a Blessed Are the Peacemakers event.

The group participated in Mass with students and guests and shared their stories afterward during a reception and Q & A session.

The six-member group was making a pilgrimage to the United States to present a replica of a cross from Nagasaki cathedral that survived the bombing to Wilmington College in Ohio.

The original wooden cross was found in the ruins of the old Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed by the atomic bomb, by Walter Hooke, a Catholic Marine from New York. He received permission from the then-archbishop of Nagasaki to take the cross home.

Hooke later became an activist for peace and donated the cross to Wilmington College’s Peace Resource Center, which has the largest collection of materials related to the atomic bombings outside of Japan. Wilmington College repatriated the cross to Nagasaki in 2019. It is currently displayed in the cathedral alongside the head of a statue of Mary that was also found in the ruins.

While in the United States, the delegation presented another replica of the cross to Hooke’s children in New York.

On Oct. 1, the members met with Cardinal Cupich to share their stories.

During an interview before the event, the archbishop and other delegates shared that none of them knew much about what happened to people in the days, weeks and months after the bombings because survivors refused to talk about it. The trauma was just too great.

Father Peter Ritsuo Hisashi, pastor of Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, said his mother was 18 and working in a factory when the bomb dropped. Hisachi was 10 when his mother died from cancer, as did many of the bombing survivors. He cannot say for sure her cancer was a result of the bombing, but believes it was.

“But I never asked her about the circumstances in which she found herself at the time of the bombing or how she had felt about the bombing either,” Hisashi said through an interpreter. “I now regret the fact that I didn’t ask any questions. Many of the atomic bomb survivors remained silent for a long time until very recently.”

Archbishop Takami, who retired in 2021, and the other delegates said that as they age, they feel a “sense of mission” to speak about the bombings, especially to young people, to promote peace.

Fusako Hirano was 3 years old during the bombing. She now manages a café near the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

“The first thing I say is, ‘No more Hiroshima or Nagasaki,’” she said in English.

She remembers that she was terrified following the bombing, but does not remember much else, she said. But she does remember her elder sister telling her she cried every day for a long time after. 

When she married her husband, Katsuichi Hirano, a Catholic, she converted to Catholicism and found some peace through faith.

“Then I know Jesus and I know the Maria,” she said. “My heart is so quiet.” [Text Box: See page 21]

Katsuichi Hirano was 2 years old at the time of the bombing and, like his wife, has no memories of that time. Both his parents survived the bombing, but his father died when he was young.

“He never told me anything about the bombing,” Katsuichi Hirano said through an interpreter. “When my father died my mother told me that he didn’t want to share his experience with me because he thought once people knew that I was the son of an atomic bomb survivor no one would want to marry me. There was lots of discrimination against atomic bomb survivors,” he said. 

Katsuichi Hirano first learned details about what happened when he visited the atomic bomb museum in Nagasaki with friends when he was 18 years old.

“When I saw the exhibits at the museum, I was really shocked, and I didn’t want to see them again. Even today I will take visitors from outside Nagasaki to the museum, but I will never enter,” Katsuichi Hirano said.

Today, he and his wife live close to the epicenter of the bombing.

“I hope to do more for peace and pass on our stories to young people,” he said.

Hirokazu Miyazaki, the Kay Davis Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University, coordinated the delegation’s visit to the United States and has long been affiliated with peace efforts in Nagasaki. He also served as the interpreter for the group.

Research into peace efforts for his work in anthropology led him to work closely with the Catholic Church in Nagasaki. He credits Archbishop Takami with elevating the peace discussions in Japan.

“Before him, the church didn’t speak out as concretely about this issue as it does now,” he said. “Given his own background as an atomic bomb survivor, he’s been really able to speak out about nuclear weapons.”

The delegation made several connections on this trip for future collaborations, including with parishioners and high school students at St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston, where they attended Mass and spoke afterward on Oct. 2.

“We would like to continue and expand the dialogue that we had here and use this momentum of the delegation’s visit to do that,” he said.


  • nuclear weapons

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