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Hibakusha: Returned Nagasaki cathedral cross conveys vivid memories of A-bomb

Yoshitoshi Fukahori, former head of the photo resource research section of the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace, is seen in this photo taken in Nagasaki on Oct. 30, 2019. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

NAGASAKI -- "The Urakami Cathedral cross has been found," rejoiced Yoshitoshi Fukahori, a Catholic A-bomb survivor, or hibakusha, who had been searching for its whereabouts for roughly 40 years.

The 90-year-old resident of Nagasaki still remembers seeing the former Urakami Cathedral engulfed in flames a day after the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on the western Japan city on Aug. 9, 1945.

Fukahori, former head of the photo resource research section of the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace, was exposed to radiation just 3.6 kilometers away from the bomb's hypocenter. Soon after he and other hibakusha established what is now the research section in August 1979, a photo was donated showing the cross among the rubble of the cathedral. The photo had been taken just after the structure was destroyed in the bombing.

"Because it was a black-and-white picture, we couldn't tell if the cross was metallic, wooden or made from something else. I thought it could have been sold off if it was metallic," he said. The man went around asking priests and church officials, but none of them knew where the cross had gone, and despite his efforts, it remained elusive -- and for good reason.

"It's no wonder I couldn't find it. All that time it was in America," said Fukahori.

From right, Tanya Maus, the director of the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio; Archbishop of Nagasaki Mitsuaki Takami; and a member of the congregation at Urakami Cathedral, Chitose Fujita, smile with the cross that was returned to the cathedral in the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 7, 2019. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

The cross was finally returned from the Peace Resource Center (PRC) at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, to the current Urakami Cathedral on Aug. 7 as a relic that had survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

According to sources including the PRC, a U.S. Marine stationed in Nagasaki after the war received the cross from Aijiro Yamaguchi, who was then a bishop. The American man donated the cross to the PRC in 1982, and it was put on display at the center.

Yamaguchi passed away in 1976 at the age of 82, leaving no clues on the whereabouts of the cross -- before Fukahori even began to search for it.

On Nov. 24, Pope Francis visited the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki and called for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. The cross was displayed near the place where he delivered the anti-nuke speech in the rain. Fukahori, however, could not attend the gathering, nor the mass held that afternoon at a baseball stadium near the park, due to poor health.

Fukahori watched a broadcast of the pope calling for international cooperation and the solidarity of people in order to achieve peace, and etched the pontiff's remarks in his heart. Year by year, he feels his body becoming less capable of doing things he used to do in the past. That's why he believes photos taken in the aftermath and belongings of those who died due to the atomic bombing will continue to pass on the terror of nuclear bombs.

He commented on the return of the cross, "I'm glad it has returned, despite such (difficult) circumstances."

(Japanese original by Noriko Tokuno, Kyushu Photo Department)

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