Nuclear Weapons- The Nagasaki Cross

Sister Megan Rice came across as a warm and gentle peacekeeper, someone you would never think would break into a United States facility involved in the production of nuclear weapons. However on 28th July 2012 St Megan and two others entered the heavily guarded Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, considered the birthplace of the atomic bomb, and spray-painted anti-war slogans and splashed blood on walls ,the New York Times reported that nuclear weapons experts called this action "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."
On 12 January 2016 we met Sister Meghan and spent the day with her visiting Faslane near Glasgow, home to Britain’s Trident ballistic missile-armed submarines as well as the Faslane Peace camp. We at the Glasgow Catholic Worker have been witnessing for peace at Faslane each month for the last decade. This is the story of why we made a replica of a cross from a church in Japan.

On August 9th, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, 74,000 people died, many of the survivors faced leukemia, cancer, or other terrible side effects, but in the decades since the city has become a symbol for loss, resilience, and hope.
Every year on the anniversary of the bombing people visit Urakami Cathedral,  located about 500 meters from ground zero, the point on the ground directly below the nuclear detonation, to pay tribute to the victims, or "Hibakusha".
In 2019 the cathedral received news that a long-missing cross that had adorned its interior before the bombing had survived and had been in the US for all these years. In an image taken about a month after the bombing, the cross was seen lying in the rubble of the cathedral but then went missing.

But in May this year, the Archbishop of Nagasaki received a letter from a college in the United States. It said the school was in possession of the cross and wanted to return it to Urakami Cathedral. After receiving the letter, a committee worked to verify that the cross in the picture sent by the US college was the same one that was in the cathedral before the bombing.

One of the founders of the committee is 90 year old Yoshitoshi Fukahori, a "hibakusha" and a devout Catholic. He has spent about thirty years searching for the cross. When Fukahori saw the photo of the cross sent by the US college, he was sure it was the same one from the cathedral altar. “I was very surprised by the discovery," he says. "It explains why we couldn’t track down the cross. It was in the US all along. But I’m so glad to find out that it survived all these years.”

In the letter to the archbishop, the college said the cross was brought to the United States by someone named Walter G. Hooke. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) tracked down a relative of Hooke's living in the US, a niece named Megan Rice. She was 89 years old when contacted and a Catholic nun. She told about her uncle's life during and after World War Two.

Hooke was a Marine volunteer during the war. Afterward, he served in Nagasaki as part of occupation forces. Rice says her uncle seldom spoke to his family about his time in Japan. She says he struggled for a long time with trauma from the war.
"I think he really had PTSD," she says. "I mean he was obviously struggling with that trauma of what he had seen." Walter was a devout Catholic and during his five months in Nagasaki, he became friends with a local bishop, Aijiro Yamaguchi. The two found they shared a grief over the suffering of Nagasaki. Yamaguchi eventually decided to give Walter the cross. After he returned to the US, Walter hung it in his dining room.

Walter’s life changed after he retired from his job at a shipping company in the late 1970s. He began learning about fellow servicemen in Nagasaki who had developed cancer. For eight years, he lobbied the government until a law was passed to compensate veterans exposed to radiation. He also became involved in the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. In 1987, he spoke at a conference in New York of A-bomb survivors and victims of nuclear tests from twenty countries.

Walter devoted the remaining years of his life to nuclear disarmament. He died in 2010 at the age of 97. In an interview he gave a few years before his death, he said, "I can't see anybody that, if you ever really realize what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, would ever possibly consider using them again."

Megan was inspired by her uncle's life. She became involved in the anti-nuclear campaign, joining demonstrations, lobbying Congress, and circulating petitions. “He inspired me by his willingness and his drive to pursue a goal," she says. "The cross represents in my view many things. But it represents people dying because of their convictions."

In 1982, Walter decided it was time for the cross to leave his dining room. He thought of the Peace Resource Centre at Wilmington College in Ohio, which had a strong record of anti-nuclear activism. Tanya Maus the centre's director speaks to visitors about Walter's convictions and his relationship with the cross.  "I think ultimately he came to decide that the use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unjustified."

It was Maus who decided that, even though it was an important part of the Centre, the cross needed to be returned to Nagasaki. "To me it represents the centre very strongly but the larger sense of giving back outweighs the need for the cross to be here," she says. "As an artifact and as a sacred object, I think its home is in the Urakami Cathedral."

In July, the day came for the centre to say goodbye to the cross. The people of Wilmington gathered to pray and show their gratitude. In its departure, the cross left the town with the conviction of Walter's anti-nuclear beliefs.

On August 7, two days before the anniversary of the bombing, the cathedral held a ceremony for the returning cross. And on the anniversary, it was brought in for evening mass. The cross is back in Nagasaki. Along with the victims, survivors and advocates, it is now part of Nagasaki’s legacy of how a city can be torn apart by war. But is also a symbol of hope for a world without nuclear weapons.

Pope Francis spoke 24 November 2019 in Nagasaki, Japan, about eliminating nuclear weapons against a backdrop that featured the Nagasaki cross.

And so we made a replica of the cross, to remember a peacemaker, Sister Megan, to remember the bomb and the suffering it caused and the ongoing threat of these obscene weapons and to remember the Cross on which our Lord died who was of course the Prince of Peace.

Michael Sutherland

Thanks go to NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) where most of this information came from.