Wednesday, April 2, 2014

RINGING THE ANGELUS IN NAGASAKI

Not even an A-bomb can silence the bells of God.
                                                 A Song for Nagasaki, Paul Glynn, S.M.

On Sunday, Catholic Caravans, a family enterprise which visits parishes with books and religious articles, was again set up on our church's patio, and I strolled past the bookshelves looking for additional reading for Lent.  My eye was immediately caught by a lone book, A Song for Nagasaki, and I decided to buy it for my daughter Elizabeth's birthday, which is on Easter this year.

She and her family had gone to Asia a few years ago.  Their trips always include elements of a pilgrimage, and they had gone to Nagasaki when in Japan in part because St. Maximilian Kolbe, who founded the missionaries who gave the retreats our children went on as teenagers, had been there.  He was having a religious house built there, and those who were with him (as I remember the story) assumed he would build in the main part of Nagasaki, where most of the Christians in Japan live.  He told them instead to build on the other side of a hill and that it would become apparent later why he chose that site.  When the atomic bomb exploded, none of those who were living there were killed.

While she was there, she learned about Dr. Takashi Nagai. who also survived the blast, although his beloved wife Midori was killed.  He worked tirelessly to help the survivors of the explosion, although he had earlier been diagnosed with leukemia and was further exposed to the radiation from the bomb.  Even though he was dying, he wrote books that speak his own faith in the Christian message of love and forgiveness, including The Bells of Nagasaki.

She called me the next day and was very excited and speaking so fast that only gradually did I realize that she had seen the book somewhere else and bought it for herself!  I told her that I had gotten it for her birthday, and we shared a long discussion about greatness of this man to whom she had introduced me several years ago.  I had read some passages from the book and although many were truly horrifying, ultimately it is a book about hope, and the Faith that carries one forward along that path, no matter what losses you have sustained.

For me, the passage that highlights that hope describes the two bell towers of Urakami Cathedral. The atomic bomb hurled one tower yards away and cracked the bell beyond repair.  The second cupola fell straight down and was buried by tons of brick, masonry, girders and ash. In December, Dr. Nagai and some helpers decided to start digging for the buried bell. By late morning on December 24, they could see the top of the bell.  After lunch, they said the Rosary, cleared the bell and found no cracks.  The set the bell on a tripod of logs.  It was already dark and almost 6 P.M., the traditional time for the Angelus.

They, "not knowing if the buried bell would ring, had not advertised their project to the Urakami Christians.  At that moment, the latter were sitting down in drafty huts for skimpy suppers, with nothing to look forward to but the drabbest-ever midnight Mass in a burnt-out hall of St. Francis Hospital.  Then suddenly a real miracle transformed the winter darkness.  The nostalgic Angelus!  The peals were all the clearer for the absence of any tall buildings in the suburb of huts.  It seemed to them that the cathedral had arisen from the ashes to herald Christ's birth.  They listened in awe like the shepherds when singing came from the dark sky above Bethlehem.  That night the title of Nagai's book was born--The Bells of Nagasaki. Its message would be that not even an A-bomb can silence the bells of God."