One of my Lenten practices is to dedicate time to read stories of women and men of great faith from whom I can learn and be challenged to grow. Several weeks ago I was talking with a good friend who teaches sociology at a liberal arts college in the North East. He had recently returned from Nagasaki, Japan, where he was doing research, and he told me an amazing story of Dr. Takashi Nagai who was a scientist, Catholic convert and a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. I was not familiar with Dr. Nagai’s story, so he generously sent me a copy of the book, A Song for Nagasaki – The Story of Takashi Nagai. Being a revert to Catholicism, I am always interested in reading the stories of others who have come to the Catholic faith, especially those who are scientists.
Takashi Nagai grew up in a village and eventually studied medicine at Nagasaki University in 1930’s. He dedicated his life to the study of radiology and made great strides in his research in the 1930’s, though it meant risking his life due to radiation exposure. While going to medical school he boarded at the home of a Catholic family who witnessed to him by their faithful lives. Dr. Nagai eventually responded to the call in his heart and he converted to Catholicism and married Midori, the daughter of the family with whom he boarded.
On August 9, 1945 an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing over 80,000 people in a blink of an eye, and poisoning tens of thousands more who would eventually succumb to radiation exposure. Though injured, Dr. Nagai survived the blast and tried to help many who were badly burned and poisoned. Dr. Nagai lost his wife, Midori, in the explosion; but his children survived because they happened to be staying with relatives who lived far away. Dr. Nagai led efforts to heal his nation, both physically and spiritually, through his many writings. While battling the effects of leukemia due to radiation exposure, his example of love and forgiveness touched millions of lives throughout Japan and beyond.
In one of his last books written especially for his two children, Dr. Nagai writes,
“Our lives are of great worth if we accept with good grace the situation that Providence places us in and go on living lovingly. A sick person who has grasped this will live so full a life that there will be no room for morbid death wishes…All will be judged by exactly the same measure: did we use our talents well and for God’s glory?”
Often I am tempted to complain about the circumstances in my life, feeling sorry for myself. Dr. Nagai’s example of faith, humility and fortitude in the midst of horrendous trials, challenges me to be grateful to God for life and to look outside myself to help others in whatever small ways I can for the glory of God. My prayer is that this Lenten season may be a time for reflection and change for each of us.
– Jim Ennis is the Executive Director of Catholic Rural Life.
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