Saturday, August 8, 2009

On Human Sin and the Nerves of Uncontrolled Females

"So you are Catholic?" He asked me.

"Well, no."

"But CERTAINLY you are a Christian?"


Which is when his hand found its way to my forehead, and I was told that Father Diez, who I just met five minutes before, would be praying for my soul to find Jesus, and that when I return home I should then start attending church.

It became clear early in our stay in Nagasaki at the Jesuit retreat center that there had been a misunderstanding. After several non-Catholics in our group encountered conversion attempts, and almost all of the women had been either insulted and/or ignored, we realized that perhaps when these Jesuits offered us housing they did not read about our group past the title of "Journey of Repentance." Our hosts were quite certain that we were not only all Catholic, but that our purpose here in Nagasaki was to attend mass at the monument of the 26 Martyrs and retreat at their center, rather than attend conferences, listen to the Hibakusha, and take part in interfaith ceremonies. They were shocked and angered to discover the misunderstanding, which we felt we had made clear from the start. Fr. Jose then explained to me the belief among a large sect of the Catholic community here that God offers the "only" answer to why Nagasaki was bombed: it was His punishment for human sin, that the lives brutally lost on August 9th were a human sacrifice. Even the Catholic members of our delegation were taken aback; these are not the Catholics we are used to and familiar with. It is clear that both groups have much to learn.

All the same, efforts have been made to ease the discomfort and discontent. We do not want to leave ruffled feathers, we do not want to leave with anyone feeling insulted. Misunderstandings have been felt on both sides, both religiously and economically. We were under the impression that they had offered us housing as a gift, much as the Guadalupe House has done for all those who pass through it's doors on retreat for this cause. However, we have been corrected and are now charged 4,700 yen a night per person. Reviewing the situation, we decided that the money was not our greatest concern. As Tom put it so well this afternoon, it would be hard to host an interfaith group focused on dialogue with the Hibakusha in a place where non-Catholics are seen as potential converts, women have no voice, and any effort to speak with the Japanese survivors of "God's punishment" is seen as "not important." We attempted, and succeeded fairly well, to hold reflection time this afternoon, which was interrupted by a reprimand from Fr. Diez on our practices with the air conditioning. Just last night we were talking about how impressed we were with all the hospitality we have received in this country. Clearly the hospitality at this particular location has come to an end. Luckily, the Buddhists down the street have room for us, so we switch roofs tomorrow. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep, but I find it amusing that the Jesuits kick us out and the Buddhists open their doors. What an image. What a world. What a Nagasaki.

In spite of all these logistical issues, we have made much progress since arriving in Nagasaki, fueled by all we encountered and learned in Tokyo and Hiroshima. Today, 8 of our members attended the 2009 World Conference against A and H Bombs.The other 10 remained at the center to reflect on our experience thus far and plan for the nine months that lie ahead of us in preparation for the NPT Review Conference. May 10th, 2010 will come sooner than any of us can imagine.

But, before it gets here, get ready for panels, exhibits, music, pod casts, a documentary, lobbying efforts, letter writing, and guest Hibakusha speakers. As each mayor of Hiroshima has made clear since 1945, the time is NOW to put an end to nuclear weapons. Tomorrow is the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. We are hopeful that August 9th will forever be known as both the second, and last, atomic bombing.


  1. As a Catholic, I am ashamed at the reception you received at the hands (literally) of these not so catholic Jesuits. Jesuits, like the Catholic Church, span the spectrum from extreme conservative to cutting edge progressive feminist/environmental/liberation theology. Thank God for the Buddhists! Sounds like a quite a surprise, a different cultural experience than anyone expected. With grace, I hope an increase in mutual understanding is being achieved. And if such differences can be bridged, hope for banishing nuclear weapons too! Peace, shalom, hugs! Chris Covert-Bowlds

  2. Such a delicious irony, getting booted by the Jesuits and welcomed by the Buddhists! It sounds like you all handled this somewhat sad situation quite well (no surprise). Blessings to all of you, especially the "uncontrolled females"!

    On a serious note, I was stunned by Fr. Diez's view that the bombing of Nagasaki was "God's punishment." I guess it was somewhat naive of me to assume that there wouldn't be a diversity of opinions about this in Japan, too . . . though one hopes that his is a minority opinion.