After the general audience on Wednesday morning at the Vatican, the Holy Father blessed what remains of a statue that partially survived the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. Rome is just the first stop on an international "peace pilgrimage" by the Archbishop of Nagasaki and the "Bombed Maria," which will arrive at the U.N. in time for the start of nuclear non-proliferation talks in May.
There is little left of the once six-foot tall statue of Mary from the Urakami Cathedral of Nagasaki, just the a hollow looking visage still in one piece from the neck up. Half bleached white and half charcoal black, all that remained of the statue after the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic explosion was the head.
She is known as "Bombed Maria" locally.
According to an article published online by the archdiocese in February, Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami is on his way to unite the Italian-made statue with the remains of another statue of Mary that survived the bombing of the northern Spanish city Guernica on April 26, 1937.
In an interesting twist, all that remains of the Spanish statue is its head, a fact Archbishop Takami called "incredible."
The statues are being brought together during what the archdiocese is calling a "peace pilgrimage" that marks 65 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were dropped. The event is being remembered at the Guernica Peace Museum by a special exhibit.
The stop at the Vatican on Wednesday gave the pilgrimage and statue the Pope's blessing. Another stop on the way to Guernica will be Barcelona's Sagrada Familia Cathedral, to be consecrated by Pope Benedict on Nov. 7.
Reflecting on the message he wishes to convey along the route, the archbishop said in February, "Peace can never be created by violence."
He expressed his hope that the pilgrimage "not only lets more people know about the suffering caused by the atomic bombing, but also becomes an appeal for peace using non-violent methods."
With that purpose in mind, the statues will be taken by their respective bishops to the U.N. in time for to make an appeal for the renewal of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Noting the challenge of every country to rid the world of these weapons, regardless of their nuclear capabilities, the bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki requested in a formal statement on Feb. 26 that global leaders "take the courageous step toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons and the realization of a world without wars."
Midori Shikayama, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the head of "Bombed Maria" will eventually be taken to New York City, where it will be placed in St. Patrick's Cathedral. It will be there for Mass on May 2, the day before the inauguration of the NPT conference at the U.N.
Archbishop Takami hopes to be able to meet with Ban Ki-Moon and the NPT conference president-elect, Libran Nuevas Cabactulan, to be able to deliver them the formal statement for peace in person.