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People in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Sunday mourned the death of Pope John Paul II, who visited the atomic-bombed cities in 1981 to appeal for world peace.

The Polish pontiff, who led the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, died Saturday evening in his Vatican apartment at the age of 84, ending a long public struggle against debilitating illness.

Toshiyuki Fukazaki, a 75-year-old former Hiroshima city government official, said the pope’s appeal “was comprehensible as well as powerful. He told the world of the importance of the experience of Hiroshima.”

The pope visited Japan amid rising tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union over the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

Akihiro Takahashi, 73, still remembers how the pope extended his hand to take hold of his own, which couldn’t be raised due to damage from the A-bomb, as he was showing the pope around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as its chief.

The pontiff showed grief when Takahashi explained that the power of an atomic bomb is equivalent to 4,000 B-29 bombers, he said.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba issued a statement saying, “We have to make efforts to terminate nuclear weapons with a strong resolve by remembering the message of the pope” who urged the world to ponder the tragic consequences of the atomic attack on the city.

The pontiff made the appeal on Feb. 25, 1981, in the city’s peace memorial park, calling for the elimination of nuclear arms.

Fumioki Kusano, a 20-year-old grandchild of A-bomb victims, remembered his meeting with the pope in Rome in 2002 as a member of a peace missionary from Nagasaki. “He looked very powerful when he recited the Bible. I strongly felt that we should appeal for peace to the world,” he said.

In Nagasaki, Isamu Hirano, a 67-year-old parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, reported the pontiff’s death to his congregation.

Some believers held back tears and fits of crying as Hirano quietly appealed for believers to join him in prayer.

A 53-year-old nun said the news “has conjured up my memory of reciting prayers together with the pope, when I was studying at the Vatican.”

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