Irradiated Cross Returns to the Nagasaki Cathedral

August 16, 2019
The ruins of Nagasaki Cathedral

As Japan commemorated the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 2019, a wooden cross found intact in the middle of the ruins was returned to its place of origin: Urakami Cathedral, located near the hypocenter of the disaster.

On Thursday, August 9, 1945, at 11:00 am, the American B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped a “Fat Man” on the city of Nagasaki, causing the direct death of at least 40,000 people. Three days after Hiroshima (75,000 dead), the second nuclear bombardment in history struck the historic center of Catholicism in the Japanese archipelago. Instead of falling on the Mitsubishi settlements, the original target, the plutonium bomb exploded 580 m above the Urakami district, a valley in the industrial suburb of Nagasaki. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where the faithful had gathered to pray on the approach of the feast of August 15, was completely destroyed.

In the rubble, a cross was found. One meter high and 30 cm wide, decorated with gold leaf, it was entrusted a few months after the tragedy to an American soldier, Walter Hooke, by the Bishop of Nagasaki, Bishop Aijiro Yamaguchi. A Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Walter Hooke preserved the irradiated cross as a relic before donating it in 1982 to the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College, a university in the state of Ohio.

It was this cross that was returned to its original shrine on August 7, 2019. The director of the institution, Tanya Maus, made the trip to hand it personally to the authorities of the current Nagasaki Cathedral, rebuilt on the ruins of the old.

Mitsuaki Takami, Archbishop of Nagasaki, said while receiving the relic: “The cross tells how brutal humans can be, and at the same time, it gives us hope.” It is true that in the face of barbarity and evil in all its forms, the Cross is our only hope. Ave crux spes unica.