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Japanese Christians remember end of Second World War with ‘peace, trust, and hope’

07 August 2020

Shu Tomioka

Candles are lit in St Martin’s, West Acton, in London, on Thursday, to mark the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima

Candles are lit in St Martin’s, West Acton, in London, on Thursday, to mark the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima

A MESSAGE of trust and hope — and determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past — has come from the Anglican Church in Japan, Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK), as 75 years are reached since the close of the Second World War.

Like other planned events for 2020, commemorations of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings had been cancelled owing to the pandemic, the provincial secretary, Jesse Yahag, said.

But the anniversary was an important one for Japanese Christians. “Although Japan has not yet ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, through its Statement on War Responsibility the NSKK confesses that each of us bears responsibility for the war, and states that we will continue to share our experiences regarding the war, and swear that we will never make such a mistake again.

“As Christians living in search of peace in the only nation ever to have suffered atomic bombing, we want to fulfil that responsibility. In the midst of the current Covid-19 pandemic, we want to remember all who are anxious at this time, and pray that we may all understand that it is trust and hope in God and our neighbours — not discrimination and prejudice — which are the key to achieving peace.”

From 6 to 9 August, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in New York are marking the occasion by watching videos produced by the United Religions Initiative, and readings are being given from J. Chester Johnson’s litany of reconciliation, the convener of the Fellowship’s St Bartholomew’s (Manhattan) Chapter, Richard Jordan, said. This replaces the interfaith service usually held in the church. “Reconciliation for social justice in the larger sense during these days when Black Lives Matter also includes, for us, the abolition of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Pope Francis also wrote to Hidehiko Yusaki, the governor of the Hiroshima prefecture, this week on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, that “the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral. . . All people need to lay down the weapons of war, and especially the most powerful and destructive weapon: nuclear arms that can cripple and destroy whole cities, whole countries.”

The World Council of Churches released a statement this week: “As a wide coalition of faith-based communities from around the world, we have committed to speaking with one voice that rejects the existential threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose. We reaffirm that the presence of even one nuclear weapon violates the core principles of our different faith traditions and threatens the unimaginable destruction of everything we hold dear.”

In London, St Martin’s, West Acton, held a socially distanced prayer vigil on Thursday. Those visiting were invited to light candles to commemorate the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to pray for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. People also folded origami paper cranes, a traditional symbol of peace.

A lay minister and chaplain to the Japanese community in north-west London, Yuki Johnson, said, “As a Japanese congregation we wanted to mark this important anniversary and a vigil was one way we could do this, given the difficulties we have had in meeting together recently. What happened 75 years ago must never be forgotten.”

Also in the UK, 168 church leaders of eight denominations united in calling on the Government to cancel plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, in a statement coordinated by the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Among those who have signed the statement are the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, the RC Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Malcolm McMahon, and the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley.

A co-chair of Christian CND, Martin Tiller, said: “It is encouraging to see so many Christian leaders coming together to call for an end to nuclear weapons. The anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki give us a fresh opportunity to contemplate the horrors of nuclear weapons and redouble our efforts in working and praying for their elimination.”

The Prime Minister has been criticised for announcing plans this week for Victory over Japan (VJ) Day anniversary celebrations on Sunday with no reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Peace Pledge Union’s Remembrance Project manager, Geoff Tibbs, said in a statement: “Boris Johnson and his ministers are encouraging us to celebrate VJ Day without even mentioning the nuclear bombings. This is a shameful attempt to erase history and play down the horrors of war.

“The government is right to encourage remembrance for Allied troops who died in the war, including the 12,000 British people who died due to horrific mistreatment in Japanese captivity. It gives a lop-sided view of history if Japanese victims are not included as well as British victims and those of other nationalities. Children, as well as adults, are being given a misleading impression of the events of World War Two.”

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