Today I had the special honor to meet and visit with one of the hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. Setsuko Thurlow was thirteen years old the day of the bombing. She was inside a building on the second floor, approximately one mile away from the hypocenter of the bomb, with others of her age, and was trapped for some time. When she was finally helped free of her entrapment and able to go outside (it was daytime as the bomb dropped at 8:15 am) it was so dark because of all of the nuclear fallout that was raining from above. It was totally silent, except for the many people she could hear asking for water or calling for their mothers to help them.

As she began to walk, she saw nothing but dead people, and those who were living were horribly burned, with flesh hanging off of them. She made her way to an army camp outside of town, which she said was about the size of two football fields, and it was already overcrowded with the survivors, many of whom were dying, or had already died.

Everyone was begging for water, but there were no buckets or cups to carry water to them. She remembers going to the river, tearing off her clothes and soaking them in the water and carrying it back to place on the mouths of those begging for a drink, only to watch many of them die. Someone began leading others in a song and she vividly recalls it was Nearer My God To Thee.

She believes she lost something like 8,000 of her classmates, and others of her same age, instantly vaporized on that terrible day. By the end of December, 1946, nearly 140,000 people had died from the atomic bomb that wiped out her entire city in one day. Just a few days later, another bomb would drop on Nagasaki, taking the lives of another 75,000 people. Many more would die years later from radiation poisoning and various other illnesses.

It is hard to imagine, but bombs today have thirty times the power as ‘Little Boy’, which was dropped on Hiroshima.

Setsuko has spent her life advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons. After my tour today of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum I was so profoundly moved, saddened, even sickened by all that I saw and learned. I am even more convinced and committed to following Setsuko’s lead to work for peace and to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Mary, Queen of Peace, Pray for us!