Clapping, chanting, and singing opened our day at an Interfaith Prayer Ceremony at the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound led by the Hiroshima Prefecture Federation of Religions. Our archbishops joined with other religious leaders to remember the souls of those who died 78 years ago on the anniversary of dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Several Shinto priests approached the altar with branches and reeds, bowing respectfully, followed by dozens of other dignitaries and religious leaders. Archbishops Wester and Etienne read St. Francis' prayer reminding us all to be instruments of peace.
We then walked to the Hiroshima Peace Park for the Peace Memorial Ceremony, where we sat with more than 5,000 people from more than 110 nations to witness this poignant annual event. Several speakers, including the Mayor of Hiroshima, the Prime Minister of Japan, the Governor of Hiroshima, words from the representative for the Secretary General of the United Nations, and two young children, shared the urgent need for peace and a world without nuclear weapons. The children read the Children's Commitment to Peace, urging all of us to be kind and make people smile. Doves flew overhead, and a moment of silence followed the ringing of the Peace Bell at 8:15 a.m. to mark the moment the bomb dropped. It was a very solemn event.
The nearby Gion Catholic Church parishioners welcomed us for a delightful homemade lunch, courtesy of several volunteers who prepared the meal and beautiful handmade origami décor. They played a short documentary about the experience of the Jesuit priests serving in Hiroshima on the day the bomb was dropped. Their diaries detailed the trauma, the firsthand account of experiencing the blast and the indescribable heat, the black rain, and the countless people trapped in buildings that went up in flames. The Novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Nagatsuka was led by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who immediately turned the building into a clinic housing more than 70 people the day the bomb was dropped.
The Jesuit story became even more tangible after lunch when we drove up the hill to the Novitiate. We celebrated Mass where Fr. Arrupe celebrated Mass amongst severely wounded people amid the chaos in the hours following the bombing. We saw his room and where the chapel turned clinic was housed.
Reflective somberness and reverence mark this anniversary as we remember the devastating impact of the atomic bomb. Amidst this solemn atmosphere, the day elicited a mix of grief, reverence, and a call for peace, underscoring the importance of nuclear disarmament and the lasting effects of human conflict.