While looking through some old books that I had lying around awhile back a card fell out of one. I picked up the card and then I remembered that it was the last thing that Fr. Franciscus Tadashi Hasegawa had given me in November 1966. But my thoughts rushed back to the time and the place where I had received it. It was with a heavy heart that I remembered that I was not to fulfil and carry out the wishes of Fr. Hasegawa, and it was because of this I felt that I had to now fulfil it in a very different way.
My ship the M/V "NURMAHAL" (later the STRATNAIRN) was of London registry, and we had just arrived at Fort Vancouver, ORE from Seattle, WASH to take on some cargo. The very next day we sailed down the Columbia River on a course that would take us to the Pacific Ocean. We would then be on our way to Townsville, Queensland, Australia to pick up some more cargo for Hardangar, in the Norwegian Fjords, after which we would head home for Birkenhead, England. Midway to our first destination in Australia, we found that there was a very serious leak in the propeller tail-shaft Lignum Vitae bushings, and were thus forced to head for the nearest Dry-Dock. As it happened, the only available Dry-Dock was in Hiroshima, Japan, but it was only a floating Dry-Dock.
On arrival in Hiroshima, Japan, I went ashore and wanted to know more about the Atomic Bomb that was dropped on this Christian City and the damage it has caused to human life and all other aspects, including schools, hospitals and homes.
I walked around for a bit, and finally ended up at the Peace Memorial Cathedral in Hiroshima. I went into the Cathedral and it was there that I met Fr. Franciscus Tadashi Hasegawa. Fr. Hasegawa was only 14-years old on that August day in 1945, when the Atomic Bomb fell on the City of Hiroshima. The school that he was attending was hit, and most of the children attending school that day did not survive. Not that the schoolboy Hasegawa was really lucky that he survived, because his body was covered with radiation burns. When I met Fr. Hasegawa, he was still having skin grafts done on his body every so often.
He invited me to go with him in his car, a Toyota (run by a lawn mower engine) to visit the Atomic Bomb on Mount Hiroshima, where there were 80 people lying in beds, in different stages of radiation poisoning and were daily dying. We walked on the field where the Bomb itself fell, and there were no signs of vegetation, all around were a field that looked as if death was in the air. The only thing that stood was the metal superstructure of Japanese Industrial Exhibition of 1927.
I wondered to myself what kind of person it takes to bear so much without a complaint. It was to me an honour and a privilege to have met and known such a person as Fr. Hasegawa.
Fr. Hasegawa and I spent three evenings together in which I found out about this humble man. When the day came for my departure from Hiroshima, I did so with a heavy heart. But Fr. Hasegawa asked me one last favour. He asked if it would be possible for me to meet with the Spanish priest Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who later became Vicar General of the Jesuit Order in Rome, and to carry the news to him of our encounter?
Fr. Hasegawa then told me the reason why he had asked me this favour. When the Atomic Bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the first to arrive in Hiroshima from Tokyo with aid for the victims was the Spanish born Basque Jesuit priest, Padre Pedro Aruppe, because he was Spanish and therefore a neutral citizen. Fr. Pedro Arrupe had nursed the 14-year old Tadashi Hasegawa with his limited resources, and had brought him and other victims of the Atomic Bomb some comfort, and all this was in spite of the objections of the U.S. authorities which had made his job much more difficult.
Having failed to keep my promise to Fr. Hasegawa, I could honour him by doing something uniquely different to keep his memory alive. In 1984, Fr. Hasegawa succumbed to his Atomic Bomb radiation burns. Thus, I created a pyrographic painting of Jesus Christ with a Japanese face surrounded by the word PEACE in every known language, including Arabic, Amharic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Tibetan and in all 164 languages to honour his memory.
Time may pass on, but memories live forever. Thomas Paine's words -- "My country is the world" and "My religion is to do good!" Really do have a meaning. Perhaps that is how I have always understood it to be.
Kenneth T. Tellis