An anniversary for a war-torn church

Priests and parishioners killed. A cathedral almost completely obliterated. The head of a wooden statue of  Mary badly burned, but miraculously intact.

It’s been 50 years since the reconstruction of the Urakami Catholic Cathedral, which the atomic bomb ravaged in 1945 in Nagasaki, Japan. Built by the French in 1914, it had been the largest Catholic church in Asia.

The superior of the Jesuits in Japan suggested the creation of a memorial church, and citizens competed in an architectural contest, according to Catholic News Service archives.

An unnamed American benefactor gave $50,000 to erect the church.

“Americans dropped the bomb,” the benefactor said, “so Americans should help build the memorial.”

Foreign nations raised about $60,000. Much of it came from Catholic War Veterans, based in Alexandria, Va. A spokesperson could not verify this and said many veterans from that time have passed away.

A group in Switzerland has been pushing to place the Mary statue on the World Heritage List since 2001. A displaced Japanese soldier and Catholic priest found the eyeless statue while praying in the ruins of the church, according to group’s Web site. He kept it in his monastery for 30 years until giving it to a professor, who kept it for 15 years. It then spent some time in an atomic bomb museum until the group’s leader helped it find its home in the rebuilt church.

More than 20,000 people have signed petitions to have the statue recognized.

A pamphlet in Catholic News Service's archives called "Memory of Urakami Church."

A pamphlet in Catholic News Service's archives called "Memory of Urakami Church."

Remembering ‘a man of peace’

The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has a touching story about Father Timothy Vakoc, who died on Saturday. He was reportedly the first Army chaplain to be gravely injured in the Iraq War.

His older brother told the Catholic newspaper that he hopes the 49-year-old will be remembered as a priest who gave his life serving Christians.

“He firmly believed in what he was doing as an active duty chaplain in the Army,” says Jeff Vakoc.

Kids say the darndest things — the sequel

A Jewish neighbor of mine talked to me early this spring about how he could explain Passover to his inquisitive 4-year-old daughter without either making it sound too grisly or papering things over.

I was confronted by a similar situation at church last month.

My family’s pew is in a transept where there is a large crucifix, one much larger than the one in the sancutary. My 5-year-old daughter asked me why Jesus was on the cross — including “Why did he die?”

Mentally, I took a big breath, then explained that Jesus knew he had to die for us, but that Jesus was wrongly arrested, falsely tried for a crime he didn’t commit, and that back then, when the government  killed people it didn’t like, it put them on the cross.

My daughter thought for a brief moment. “Were you around then?” she asked. “No, no,” I said.

Another pause. “Was Mommy around then?”