On his first full day in Japan, Pope Francis visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and describes it as a place where death and life, loss and rebirth, suffering and compassion have met. He reaffirms that the use and possession of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral.
Over 70,000 people died instantly. Another 70,000 died later from radiation burns. At 8:15 on the morning of 6 August 1945, the first wartime atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, destroying it completely.
The only building to survive the blast was the Genbaku Dome. Today its iconic ruin stands at the heart of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park as a reminder of the most destructive force ever unleashed by humanity, on humanity.
Pope Francis flew to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial on Sunday. Standing before the A-Bomb Dome, as it is called, he described the moment of the explosion in his own words: “An incandescent burst of lightning and fire, so many men and women, so many dreams and hopes, disappeared, leaving behind only shadows and silence. In barely an instant, everything was devoured by a black hole of destruction and death.”
He said he had come to pay homage to the victims and to acknowledge the strength and dignity of the survivors.
“We continue even today to hear the cries of those who are no longer,” said the Pope adding that “They came from different places, had different names, and some spoke different languages. Yet all were united in the same fate, in a terrifying hour that left its mark forever not only on the history of this country, but on the face of humanity.”
Pope Francis said he had come to this place of memory and hope for the future, as “a pilgrim of peace”, bringing with him “the cry of the poor who are always the most helpless victims of hatred and conflict”. He wanted to be “the voice of the voiceless, who witness with concern and anguish the growing tensions of our own time: the unacceptable inequalities and injustices that threaten human coexistence, the grave inability to care for our common home, and the constant outbreak of armed conflict, as if these could guarantee a future of peace.”
He stated “that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral”, affirmed Pope Francis, and “we will be judged on this.”
“Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act to bring it about among the peoples of the earth. Peace must be founded on truth, built up in justice, animated and perfected by charity, and attained in freedom,” he added.
“If we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands. How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of nuclear war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?” he asked.
“A true peace can only be an unarmed peace”, because peace is not merely the absence of war, he repeated: “It is the fruit of justice, development, solidarity, care for our common home and the promotion of the common good, as we have learned from the lessons of history.”
Pope Francis presented three moral imperatives: to remember, to journey together, to protect. “We cannot allow present and future generations to lose the memory of what happened here,” insisted the Pope.
“It is a memory that ensures and encourages the building of a more fair and fraternal future; an expansive memory, capable of awakening the consciences of all men and women, especially those who today play a crucial role in the destiny of the nations; a living memory that helps us say in every generation: never again!”
We are called to journey together with a gaze of understanding and forgiveness, “to open the horizon to hope and to bring a ray of light amid the many clouds that today darken the sky.”
He invited us all to “open our hearts to hope, and become instruments of reconciliation and peace.”
“This will always be possible if we are able to protect one another and realize that we are joined by a common destiny”, he said. “Our world, interconnected not only by globalization but by the very earth we have always shared, demands, today more than ever, that interests exclusive to certain groups or sectors be left to one side, in order to achieve the greatness of those who struggle co-responsibly to ensure a common future.”
Pope Francis concluded with a single plea “to God and to all men and women of good will, on behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us together cry out: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering!”