We witnessed the sea of commuters rushing through the Tokyo train station this morning as we boarded the four-hour bullet train to Hiroshima. Speeding through the countryside, we saw numerous cities, coastal communities, gorgeous mountains, a few Christian churches, and rural areas before arriving in Hiroshima.
Most Rev. Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama, Bishop of Hiroshima, welcomed us at the train station and accompanied us to the chancery where we prayed the Novena and celebrated a private Mass in the chapel. Archbishop Etienne spoke about the mysterious love of Christ and how we share that with each other.
After Mass, we spent several hours touring the Peace Memorial Museum, an unforgettable and poignant experience. The museum provides a history of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima – with artifacts, photographs, remnants, and more. We listened to painful stories of people who experienced the atomic bomb. Stories of parents looking for children; stories of students missing friends; stories of survivors searching for water or drinking the black ash rain as it fell from the sky. These anecdotes of the Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) brought history to life in a tangible and extraordinary way.
We then strolled through Peace Memorial Park, created in 1954 as a public park for world peace. It features a Memorial Cenotaph with the names of ~140,000 people killed by the bomb. At the end of the park is the A-bomb dome, the ruins of a Prefectural Hall that was the closest building to the hypocenter where the bomb was dropped. Today the dome stands to honor the memories of those who died.
The day closed with a traditional Japanese dinner with Bishop Shirahama, Sr. Filo, and several dignitaries, including Akira Kawasaki, President of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Setsuko Thurlow, a well-known 91-year-old Hibakusha and nuclear disarmament advocate who has spent her life fighting for peace.
Setsuko shared her painful first-hand experience of the atomic bomb that eviscerated everything. She described the horrific scenes, trauma, and immense loss. She tore off part of her blouse to soak up water from the river and bring it to burn victims to drink, hoping to alleviate their pain. This was just one of many details she shared about that day and its aftermath. She is a treasure and meeting her was a privilege and an honor. She will leave an imprint on us forever.