This week, August 6, marks the 76th anniversary of the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb, the first time such a device had been used in war. That day, instantaneously, more than 80,000 people (30% of the city’s population) died, and tens of thousands more would die in the months and years to come from the effects of the radioactivity and from the burns.
That day, in that city, under that rain of fire and death, there was a young Basque Jesuit who would later play an important role in the history of the Church: Pedro Arrupe y Gondra, Father Arrupe. Amidst all the chaos, Father Arrupe organized a blood hospital at the order’s novitiate hall to tend to the wounded, with the help of the novices, and ran through the streets collecting survivors. Father Arrupe wrote a book about the experience: “Yo viví la bomba atómica”.
After that terrible experience, Father Arrupe was made a superior of the Jesuits in Japan (1954), and a few years later, in 1965, he was elected the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He guided the Society towards more modern currents. In fact, his detractors even managed to say that “a Basque (St. Ignatius of Loyola) had founded the Jesuits, and another would destroy it.”
Vatican Radio said that “he was a leader of the adaptation of religious life after the Second Vatican Council, a cultural bridge between East and West, avant-garde in his dialog with the world and with ideologies, and, above all, a passionate follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Father Arrupe died convinced that faith could not be understood without a commitment to the liberation of the poor and marginalized in this world.” This decision and attitude and consequences: the murder of several Jesuits in Ibero-America, including a Basque, Ignacio Ellacuria, who we’ve spoken of before on the blog.
There’s even a certain symbolism in that it was another Basque, geologist Marc de Urreiztieta, who was able to explain a mystery that came out of the bombing. After detonation, a good part of the city “disappeared,” or “vaporized.” That doesn’t happen normally, when the remains of the destroyed city are simply spread out as debris, as happened in Guernica.
Nobody knew what had happened to those remains until this geologist went to the beaches of the Motoujina Peninsula and found a high concentration of strange particles that had been a part of the explosion and had ended up accumulating there. Researchers estimate that for every square kilometer (250 acres) of beach, up to a depth of 10 cm (4 in), there are between 2,200 and 3,100 tons of these particles.