OSAKA – Many Japanese are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit to Japan on Saturday, including Shoji Fukahori, an 82-year-old Christian priest and hibakusha in Hiroshima.
When the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Fukahori, then 8, was about 3 km from ground zero. Even though he had been taught as a young Christian to forgive, he was caught up by anger when he saw how badly his mother and brother were hurt by the attack, Fukahori recalled.
Fukahori became a priest when he was 27, but had never discussed his A-bomb experience with anyone. He changed his mind after hearing a speech that St. John Paul II delivered during his visit to Japan in February 1981, the first papal trip to Asia. Since that time, Fukahori has been telling his story and remains determined to keep saying no to nuclear weapons and war.
Fukahori said he is waiting to hear Pope Francis’ message.
“I think Pope Francis is caught by a growing sense of crisis” amid the increase in confrontations in many places in the world, Fukahori said. “The pope will perhaps say that he wants Japan to do more to stress the importance of peace to the world.”
Pope Francis has been calling for efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. As part of this quest, he ordered that a photo of a boy standing by a crematorium in Nagasaki after the Aug. 9, 1945, bombing of the city, his dead brother strapped to his back, be printed on cards for distribution.
“The pope is expected to say no to not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their production and possession,” said Osaka’s archbishop, Cardinal Manyo Maeda, 70, who played a pivotal role arranging Japan’s first papal visit in 38 years.
With over 10,000 nukes in the world, Francis “is worried that any of the weapons could be used any time soon and the situation is therefore serious,” Maeda said.
Francis is also expected to discuss problems facing Japan, including youth suicide and solitary deaths, in addition to climate change and other global issues, Maeda said.
Maeda, who is from one of the Goto Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, is a descendant of a so-called hidden Christian as well as the son of a hibakusha.
“Just like hibakusha, I hope Pope Francis will send throughout the world a message showing his opposition to war and his desire to eliminate nuclear weapons,” Maeda said.