Sunday, February 23, 2003

Takashi Nagai and the Rosary

Blessed Titus Brandsma was martyred for his anti-Nazi work in the Netherlands before and during the early stages of the Second World War. Dr. Takashi Nagai is known for his involvement at the end of the war -- the destruction of Nagasaki by American nuclear bombing in 1945. What binds the stories of the two men? Their Christian faith, and the Rosary.

A couple of years ago a young man made a (rather good and effective) presentation to the youth group Marilee and I were helping with. Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot understand, he interjected a story he had heard about miraculous protection of a group of priests near ground zero in Nagasaki in 1945. Somehow, this struck me as urban legend material, just because of how it was related. (I have no problems with miracles, per se.) After a few hours of intensive internet and library research I came to the conclusion that my suspicions were probably right (although my mind is still open -- enter a comments below if you have some information or a link.). What I found though, was a truly profound miracle, something far beyond the anecdote we had heard.

Takashi Nagai was born and raised whithin Shinto, but influenced by Blaise Pascal's Pensees, begain to inquire about Catholicism. He boarded with a Catholic family while studying medicine, and their example strongly affected him. He became a Catholic, and married their daughter, Midori. He served as a radiologist with the Japanese Army in China, where he worked tirelessly to serve all his patients, no matter which side of the conflict they came from. In June of 1945, he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia, and given roughly three years to live. Nagai was sustained by his wife's unflagging faith, even in the face of this news. Then, as reported here, everything changed:

August 9, 1945, 11:02 AM. A blinding flash. An atomic bomb had just exploded at Urakami, the Northern section of Nagasaki. In the war that they were waging against Japan, the leaders of the United States had available to them a new and terrifying weapon: the A-bomb. The first bomb had been dropped on Hiroshinia, and a second one devastated Nagasaki: Temperature 9,000 Centigrade, 72,000 dead, 100,000 wounded.

At the medical school, located 700 yards from the center of the explosion, Nagai, who was filing X-ray films, was thrown to the floor, his side riddled with glass fragments. Blood flowed heavily from his right temple... objects fluttered about like dead autumn leaves. Soon there was an uninterrupted flow of the wounded: bloodied shadows, clothes torn, hair burned, rushing to the doors of the hospital... A vision of Hell.

Fire was approaching the hospital. Patients were evacuated to the summit of a neighboring hill. Takashi worked to the very limit of his strength. At 4:00 PM, the fire reached the Radiology Department. Thirteen years of research, instruments, valuable documentation, everything went up in smoke. August 10 was spent taking care of the wounded. On the 11th, work was a bit less hurried, and Takashi left to search for Midori, who had stayed at home while the children and their grandmother were safe in the mountains, since August 7. He found the site of his home with difficulty in an area of tiles and cinders. Suddenly, he came upon the carbonized remains of his wife. On his knees, he prayed and wept, then placed the bones in a container. Something shone weakly through the powder of the bones of her right hand: her Rosary!

He bowed his head: "My God, I thank You for permitting her to die while she prayed. Mary, Mother of sorrows, thank you for having been with her at the hour of her death... Jesus, you carried the heavy Cross until you were crucified upon it. Now, You come to shed a light of peace on the mystery of suffering and death, Midori's and mine... Strange fate: I believed so strongly that it would be Midori that would lead me to the tomb... Now her poor remains are resting in my arms... Her voice seems to murmur: forgive, forgive."

Takashi's pardon would be perfect. Later, he will lead Christians discouraged by the loss of their family to consider that the A-bomb was part of God's plan, who always brings good from evil.

On August 15, 1945, the radio broadcasted a message from the Emperor announcing the surrender of Japan. At the beginning of September, Takashi was dying. The radiation from the A-bomb aggravated his illness. He received the last rites and said : "I die happy," then he fell into a partial coma. Water was brought to him from the Lourdes grotto constructed not far from there by Father Maximilian Kolbe. He would write, "I heard a voice telling me to ask Father Maximilian Kolbe to pray for me. I did so. Then I turned to Christ and said to Him: 'Lord, I place myself into Your Divine Hands'" The next day, Takashi was out of danger and he attributed to Father Kolbe (now canonized) the remission from his illness that he enjoyed for six years.

Nagai was never in truly good health again. but was able to write The Bells of Nagasaki, concerning his expereinces before and after the bombing, which remains in print today. He worked to spread Cristianitiy in Japan, as the one hope for a lasting peace, as well as research the effects of the atomic bombing and work to help its victims. Nagai died in 1951, and was mourned throughout Japan.

For more information, The Man Who Loved Others as Himself is a wonderfully detailed Japanese site (with an English language option), this is another interesting site, and Nagai's house that he build after the war is now part of a museum.

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