KYOTO - A Nagasaki 13-year-old who is the granddaughter of an atomic bomb survivor will present a flame kept alight from the World War II bombing of Hiroshima to Pope Francis during a general audience on Wednesday.
The “flame of peace,” as it is called, is maintained at a monument in the city of Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture. The fire is said to have been brought from Hiroshima in September 1945 after the city was flattened by the U.S. atomic bombing a month earlier on Aug. 6 in the closing days of the war.
The student, Yusa Okada, in her first year of junior high school, is part a group organized by Earth Caravan, a Kyoto-based nonprofit. The participants on the trip will pray for world peace during the papal audience.
She will be joined by Chiyumi Shinkai, 55, whose parent was a hibakusha, and Setsuko Thurlow, 87, who survived the Hiroshima bombing and campaigns for the elimination of nuclear arms in cooperation with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Others in the group include an aboriginal Canadian girl, a Palestinian girl and two others.
Three days after the tragedy of Hiroshima, the city of Nagasaki was also devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb.
The general audience with the pope, held every Wednesday at St. Peter’s Square, is attended by people from around the world.
The Vatican has promised that at least one of the participants from Japan will be allowed to get a front-row seat at the event so that the person can have a chance to meet face-to-face with Pope Francis. The participants aim to show the flame of peace to the pope and explain its history to him.
“I hope for a world without war. I’m planning to convey my wish for the elimination of nuclear weapons to Pope Francis and tell him that I want to start by doing what I can,” Okada said.
“I expect that by showing the flame to Pope Francis, we can convey the wishes of those who died praying for peace to the world,” Shinkai said.
Ryokyu Endo, who heads Earth Caravan, asked the archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nagasaki and others to help get a front-row seat for a Japanese participant after learning that Pope Francis has ordered a picture of a boy standing by a crematorium in Nagasaki after the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing of the city to be made into cards for distribution.
Endo, the chief priest of a Buddhist temple, said he hopes that the flame of peace will be delivered to Pope Francis as a symbol of the efforts to make sure that the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be repeated. The pope often advocates for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The participants will ask the pope to blow the flame out in a symbolic gesture representing the eradication of weapons of mass destruction, Endo said, according to the daily Mainichi Shimbun.
“It’s a fire that should never have been in this world and I was hoping (Pope Francis) will blow it out as a symbol to do away with nuclear arms,” Endo was quoted as saying in the daily.
Satoshi Suzuki, a 48-year-old corporate employee who plans to record video of the Japanese party’s participation in the general audience, said, “I want people around the world to watch a 13-year-old girl visit Vatican City and to take action for peace.”
Pope Francis plans to make his first trip to Japan in November. He is expected to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima during his stay.