Peace Toll

Aug. 19-Sept. 1,2004
Peace Toll
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Chuck Haupt
Binghamton Prayer Service Remembers A-Bomb Blasts of 1945

Binghamton — The sun shone brightly with blue skies and just a few puffy clouds on August 6. At the First Congregational Church, a group of 75 people at an interfaith gathering remembered a day with similar weather 59 years ago in Hiroshima, Japan. That’s when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb marking the beginning of the end of World War II. Father Tim Taugher, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Hillcrest, described the scene as he read from Thomas Merton’s “Original Child Bomb.”

“Seventy-Thousand people were killed instantly or died within a few hours. Those who did not die at once suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers.” A video based on the poem was screened for the attendees as they finished breakfast. It first displayed people of Japan at everyday activities, like eating and exercising. But then it showed the everyday turned into devastation after the bomb was dropped. Images of shadows of people where they were when the blast happened, dead bodies, and those with horrific injuries flashed on the screen. Minutes later, the audience moved outside for remembrance. It takes more than one person to ring the large bell outside the Congregational Church. Once housed in a tower, the bell is now used for ceremonial occasions. A half dozen people pulled the cord at 8:15 a.m., the exact time the bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

The youngest who helped this year was dwarfed by the bell. Quintin Casella of Connecticut was ringing the bell for the first time. “He’s quite a character. He’s a good kid,” said Quintin’s grandfather, Jack Gilroy, a member of Peace Action and a parishioner at St. Ambrose Church in Endicott. Gilroy noted that Quintin and his sister have been to many similar activities. “They’re pretty sensitive because their mother and their father are both very sensitive about social justice. They’ve been around a bit,” Gilroy said. Although the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nearly six decades ago, Gilroy believes there’s reason to be concerned.

“It’s 59 years now since the bomb and the beginning of the nuclear age and people know that the threat today is great, maybe even greater in many respects because of reserves of nuclear weapons that have been sold off out the Soviet Union,” he said. Gilroy said it’s important for the U.S. to work with Russia and other governments that have been formed from the former Soviet states. “Until we take that as a really serious situation, the threat will get greater and greater,” said Gilroy. “Some of the nuclear devices have been lost. The U.S. has not been able to track some of the plutonium and some of the nuclear missiles they’ve had. So obviously it’s a continued threat.” The remembrance of Hiroshima Day also included a walk to Peace Park, located where the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers come together in Binghamton. During the walk, Father Kevin Bunger of St. Joseph’s Church in Sanataria Springs reflected on the day.

“I think a group like this who is coming together to remember an event that in a way is kind of the distant past is really a way of reminding ourselves of the importance of looking for nonviolent solutions to conflict. And in a time when we talk about weapons of mass destruction, this is perhaps the premiere example of that,” Father Bunger said. “The horrible results of that [Hiroshima] are something that we need to consider from our Christian morality and our Christian perspective.”

“I’ve always thought in the context of today when we’re a country at war, that there’s a tendency to hold attention to important symbols of the cross and the flag. And an image that comes to my mind is that there’s no room for two of them at the top of our spiritual pyramid,” Father Bunger continued. “The one at the top is the one that interprets the one below it. In other words, if it’s the flag that’s at the top of our own value pyramid, then that’s going to interpret the Christianity and interpret the cross. If it’s the cross that’s on top, that we hold as the most valuable set of orientations, values, then that will interpret the flag.”

At Peace Park, the waters at the confluence of the two rivers ran swiftly by those gathered. The sun seemed to shine even brighter as a calm breeze kept the temperature cooler than that of a normal August day. In the blue sky above, the moon was still visible. Jack Gilroy’s grandchildren played near the riverbank. A handful of people borrowed a microphone from Gilroy. They spoke not only of Hiroshima, but also of concerns for peace around the world. After a musical selection by a flutist and a prayer, the remembrance ended. For Irene Yalch of St. Joseph’s Parish in Sanataria Springs, there was a lot to reflect on summed up in a few simple words. “I think that you will never, ever stop violence with violence,” she said. “It only creates more.”

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