The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen in Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 2019. CNS photo/Kyodo via Reuters
The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen in Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 2019. CNS photo/Kyodo via Reuters
This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The anniversaries of the bombings should be especially significant for American Catholics because Nagasaki is the historic seat of Japanese Catholicism.

American Catholics should try to observe these days in solidarity with their Japanese co-religionists with a religious sense of the responsibility they bear for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Wartime anniversaries are solemn events. Nations mourn their dead. Leaders reaffirm alliances. Crowds watch in hushed silence. Only shouted commands, the crack of boots on the pavement, the shifting of arms and the staccato snap of rifle shots break the silence.

Major anniversaries may also evoke mixed emotions. The pain of loss mixes with the gladness of remembered victory. People who have suffered defeat or endured years of occupation experience renewed anxiety and pain. Self-aware veterans revisit the atrocities they witnessed and feel a hollowness within that ceremony cannot allay. A frisson of angst at the mutability of human event washes over allies who were once enemies.

Ritual and solemnity try to confirm commitment to the cause that evoked such enormous sacrifice. They attempt to salve the wounds of war and provide a passing sense of honor regained. Public memorial services, martial ceremonies and the national myths they sustain are insufficient, however, to heal the wounds of war or nourish the spirit of peace.

For such profound healing, we need to turn to God, the source of all mercy, to loosen the hold of the past on both victor and vanquished. We must appeal, in all humility, to the God of peace to create in us the spirit of reconciliation that makes the bonds of friendship flourish between onetime enemies in a new and better future.

St. John Paul II urged during his 1981 visit to Japan, "Let us promise with our counterparts that we will tirelessly strive for disarmament and the abolition of all nuclear arms." By virtue of sharing a painful past, we Americans and Japanese bear an historic responsibility to work together for a post-nuclear peace.

American Catholics would do well this Aug. 6 and 9, the days of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, to dedicate ourselves with our Japanese Catholics to the cause of peace.

For, as Pope Francis declared at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial last November, "The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today more than ever a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. ... How can we speak of peace," the Pope asked, "even as we build terrifying new weapons of war?"

In this spirit, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network with Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, will air a webinar, date to be determined, with Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takima of Nagasaki and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. bishop's international policy committee. Catholic Peacebuilding Network also plans to air an exchange of reflections on a nonnuclear peace by students from the two countries.

Pax Christi International plans to mark the anniversary by holding its world gathering in Hiroshima with a prayer of remembrance, atonement, commitment and solidarity ending with a procession to the Atomic Bomb Dome in the Hiroshima Peace Park. (Due to the pandemic, the gathering has been postponed until 2021.)

The 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings should mark a fresh start for the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. Let it be the time when American and Japanese Catholics -- with all people of goodwill -- rip off the veneer of legitimacy from nuclear arms and speed the day when no nation can claim its people must rely on them for defense.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen is distinguished professor of ethics and human development at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. He is co-editor with Carole Sargent of "A World Free from Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament" to be released in August.