by Jay Chin
The Apostolic Vicariate of Hiroshima was founded on May 4, 1923. Bishop Heinrich Döring, S.J. presided over fewer than 5,000 laypeople and 2 diocesan priests. A few years before the atomic bombing of World War II, the vicariate was shut down following the resignation of Bishop Johannes Ross, S.J. in 1940. Almost 20 years later in 1959, the vicariate, having been reinstated, was elevated to a diocese, this time with a Japanese bishop, Dominic Yoshimatsu Noguchi. Today, the diocese has 47 parishes, 73 priests, and 21,500 laypeople.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the erection of the vicariate. In that time the Church in Hiroshima has been characterized by its corporal suffering and its peace initiatives, especially in the ending of nuclear warfare. The Tsuwano Martyrs were a group of 36 Catholics who were exiled to Tsuwano individually from the 17th to the 20th century to be enclosed in small cages and left to starve to death. The current bishop, Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda, appointed in 2011, announced at the closing Mass of the Year of Faith, that he has begun the diocesan phase of the cause of their canonization.
Along with this investigation, the annual walk from Hiroshima to Tsuwano will include not only the regular carrying of a statue of Our Lady of Tsuwano, but also a carrying of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. These statues will be on “tour” visiting various parishes along the 90 kilometers from Tsuwano mountains to the Hiroshima Memorial Cathedral for World Peace for the closing Mass of the Year of Faith.
The diocese hosted a ten day commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombings. This event included symposia, lectures, Masses and interreligious dialogue. Among those in attendance was Peter Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The diocese is home to The Center for Promoting Apostles of Peace, lead by Rev. Hattari, an apostolic group that promotes prayer and the sacraments.
The diocese regularly hosts lectures concerning the benefits and detriments of nuclear power, both as weaponry and as a source of energy, especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, which has been more devastating in terms of contamination than the nuclear bombings. Predictably, most of their speakers are skeptical of, if not totally against, nuclear power.
Blessed John Paul II visited the city in 1981, where he said that “to remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.” Clearly these words resonated with the Catholic community, for the Supreme Pontiff joined them in their past suffering. Thus they continue to remember the tragedies that they have suffered and hope to help guide Japan and the world towards peace.