A artifact familiar to many at Wilmington College provided a backdrop when Pope Francis spoke Sunday (Nov. 24) in Nagasaki, Japan, on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.
An atomic-bombed cross that until last summer had been at the Peace Resource Center (PRC) at WC was clearly visible on a pedestal throughout the pontiff’s address.
In August, College representatives returned the wooden cross that was recovered from the ruins of a Catholic cathedral destroyed in the 1945 atomic-bombing of Nagasaki. Dr. Tanya Maus, director of the Peace Resource Center, led a five –person entourage of WC students and staff members on what she described as an “international goodwill gesture of peace and reconciliation” in Japan.
The cross was part of the PRC’s display of items related to the atomic-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki since it was given to the Center in 1982.
“As an artifact that embodies the sufferings of those Urakami parishioners who died in the atomic bombings, it is held sacred by those of the Urakami Cathedral — and should be returned,” she said prior to their trip to Japan.
“They were overjoyed that the Peace Resource Center recognized the sense of loss and pain that resulted from the atomic bombings and destruction of the cathedral,” she said. “The people there appreciated that one small piece of what was lost was returned.”
The cathedral, which took 38 years to build and opened in 1938 was “destroyed instantly” when, at 11:02 a.m., Aug. 9, 1945, the American military dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan, following the one that decimated Hiroshima three days earlier. Ground zero was a densely populated valley in Nagasaki that held a concentration of the city’s 11,000 Catholics, 8,500 of whom perished.
“The return of the cross gave the archbishop and people in the parish a new energy to have new conversations about the use of nuclear weapons,” she added.
Maus understands the pope is aware of the cross’ journey from the atomic bombing to the United States and later Wilmington College – and back to Nagasaki. Indeed, he mentioned the “bombed cross” in his speech.
Maus shared her knowledge of what was a 74-year journey of the meter-long wooden cross with gold-colored trim culminating with a trip half way around the world in a guitar case and its presentation at the rebuilt Urakami Cathedral.
U.S. Marine Walter Hooke apparently retrieved the cross from the rubble of the Catholic cathedral, with permission from the bishop of Nagasaki, he claimed, and sent it to his mother in the United States. A Catholic, he was stationed in Nagasaki shortly following the atomic-bombing.
Maus noted that Hooke, who died at age 97 in 2010, became publicly critical of the A-Bomb’s use on civilian populations in Japan and, as a member of the Atomic Veterans’ Assn., advocated for compensating U.S. military personnel who were exposed to radiation, during both the testing and deployment of nuclear weapons.
During those protest activities, Hooke’s path crossed with that of Barbara Reynolds, a staunch, anti-nuclear weapons activist and the founding director of the Peace Resource Center, who had many connections to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hooke gave the cross to the PRC in 1982.