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Christians in Hiroshima both young and old are practicing Handel’s “Messiah” as they prepare to restage a choir service that was held at a church near the epicenter two years after the atomic bombing.

The service was held on Dec. 24, 1947, even though the church had not been repaired after the blast.

People recently walking by Hiroshima Nagarekawa Church were treated to the sound of people practicing the oratorio, and some even joined in the singing, said Yoshiaki Nagashiba, an 85-year-old former schoolteacher.

“I don’t know why but I feel relieved when it comes to the initial part of the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus,” Nagashiba said.

Though he was unable to attend the 1947 service, he later became a member of the choir at the church and enjoyed singing the “Messiah.”

“Something like hope welled up in my heart” when singing it, Nagashiba recalls.

The choir at the 1947 service was led by Shiro Ota, who had lost a son in the bombing.

One day, Nagashiba saw Ota drawing a picture of the church under swirling red flames. Here was a man, he thought, who was struggling with sorrows that could not be healed while leading a chorus in an effort to give hope to people.

The choir service embodied church members’ hopes that the sacrifices of the many lives lost in the blast would contribute to bringing peace to the world. With some 100 people participating, it was broadcast on NHK radio.

Now a project is underway to restage the service at Nagarekawa Church on Dec. 13.

Yuki Mitsuhira, 32, a member of the team leading the project, said, “Day by day, it becomes more difficult” to collect testimonies from people who remember the service. The team has not yet found anyone who heard the radio program.

Singing practice is held almost every week, providing opportunities for people of all ages to get to know each other.

Kazuko Mito, a 76-year-old alto in the chorus, is a survivor of the bombing.

She said she saw nothing but burned ruins in front of Hiroshima Station when she went to the black market stalls there with her mother and grandmother in 1947.

Mito said she is concerned about recent developments at home and abroad that she fears may lead to war.

“I would never want our children and grandchildren to have the same experience as we did,” she said. “To convey that wish, I’m singing as if to light a candle.”

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