Thursday, November 3, 2011

Another Pair of Married Saints

The title isn't correct. Takashi Nagai and Midori Moriyama are married and good, saintly people. But it is only the husband, Takashi Nagai that has started on the path to official sainthood. He has been declared a Servant of God, the first step in canonization. Reading his life will bring you to admiration of this young doctor. He already is a saint, in my eyes. He was born in 1908 into a doctor's family and that meant he had a better than average upbringing and education. He didn't want for anything. He also became a doctor, specializing in radiology. His religion was Shintoist and Confucianist.

Takashi became interested in Christianity when he was in college. He happened to have lodging in with the Moriyama family. The Moriyama family were Kakure Kirishtans in Urakami. They also had a young pretty daughter who was a teacher and lived in a different town. The daughter, Midori Moriyama met Takashi Nagai on one of her visits to her parents. The Moriyamas were good Catholics and their devotion caught the interest of Takashi. He was also reading Blaise Pascal in college. He became interested in whatever it was that motivated the Moriyamas, and I imagined that he and Midori had a few discussions on Catholicism. When she invited him to Christmas Mass, he was impressed. But it turned out, that he gave Morihamas a gift that no one, even he, expected.

During that Christmas visit, Midori was hit with acute appendicitis. At first, it was not diagnosed correctly, but Takashi recognized the ailment for what it was. He ended up carrying her on his back to the hospital, in the middle of a snowstorm, so she could receive an emergency operation.


I stop here and take a deep breath.

I also was misdiagnosed with an abdominal issue that actually resulted in a ruptured appendicitis, when I was a teen. I don't know how Midori could have withstood the pain while being carried. (Maybe she was drugged.)

A few years later, after he received his degree, and after his military service, they married. During this time, Takashi converted. I like to think that not only did he fall in love with Midori, but also our beautiful Catholic religion. Before he married Midori, however, he had to be sure that she understood one thing. That was that he was most probably going to die young. You see his field of expertise was radiology. He worked with x-rays and at that time, that was considered the cutting edge of technology. X-ray machines were remarkable. You actually could see inside a person. It was an exciting time and Takasi wanted to dedicate his work and life to medical science, but he understood that Midori may not want this.

You know how she answered? She gave the same response Ruth did to her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17): "It will be my privilege to share your journey wherever it leads, and to accept whatever happens along the way."

They married and had two children. Nagai work in radiology. At that time, 1930's, safety standards were not understood and many radiologists died from radiation exposure, and Takashi began to see some symptoms himself. His diagnosis was leukemia with a life expectancy of two or three years. His writings show that he began to doubt his faith, but he also was thankful for the many blessings he had received. In fact, his illness drew he and his wife and children closer than ever. The family united in prayer.

Then in August, 1945, pamphlets dropped down upon their home in Nagasaki from American planes warning that a bomb would be dropped. Takashi and Midori sent their children to their grandparents home to stay. They stayed in Nagasaki. Takashi and Midori carried on their lives.

At 11:03 AM, on August 9th, the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. Takasi was in the university hospital and was buried under debris. He managed to dig himself out and then immediately helped others. Doctor Takashi worked day and night wondering and praying for Midori. He hoped to come across her in the hospital, but she wasn't among them. He wanted to run out and look for her, but he was needed at the hospital desperately. He worked day and night until he collapsed himself. He had leukemia, a few wounds from the explosion that caused blood loss and finally his legs gave way. He woke up on the operating table. His wounds had been dressed and he felt better. Finally, he allowed himself to go out and look for his wife. He did manage to find his house. The only thing he could find from Midori was her skull. Her body had been incinerated. He buried what he could, himself.

He returned to work and eventually went and gathered his children to another home. He had lost everything but his faith and his children. Barely a month after the atomic explosion, Doctor Takashi leukemia worsened. He was given the Last Rites. He fell unconscious and everyone waited his death. But miraculously, after five days in a coma, he recovered. He wasn't completely cured but he grew strong and lived for six more years. He wrote and talked, and taught. He left behind a voluminous amount or writings. In fact, the Bells of Nagasaki got the title from the bells in the Cathedral, and the book is an account of living through the atomic bomb. His works are spiritual chronicles and have been translated into many languages.

He truly did God's work. I hope to meet him someday.

*h/t Fr. Kevin Kraft, O.P. for his research on well married saints.

1 comment:

Faith said...

Julie has left a new comment on your post "Another Pair of Married Saints":

Thank you for writing this article, and for your deep interest in and appreciation of this holy man. But I must take exception to one thing you wrote (if I understood it correctly): "I like to think that not only did he fall in love with Midori, but also our beautiful Catholic religion." Takashi Nagai was a man of profound spiritual and intellectual integrity, and his struggle before he converted was a long and deep one; furthermore, as a Japanese man in a Shinto-Buddhist society where Christianity was held in deep suspicion, he knew he had much to lose. There is no reason to doubt that his conversion to the Catholic Faith was profound and true. It was certainly not a conversion of convenience just so that he could marry Midori. He lived this Faith in his daily life, and the very last conversation he had with Midori, before the bomb fell, was about how they would celebrate the upcoming Feast of the Assumption, and about going to confession beforehand. And on November 23, 1945, in deep mourning for his wife who died in the blast, when he addressed the gathered remnant of the Catholic population in the burned-out Cathedral of the Assumption, these Catholics on whose neighborhood the bomb had directly fallen, and thinking of the Nuns who had died of terrible burns while singing hymns hours after the bomb fell, he told his fellow Catholics that God had accepted them as an expiatory sacrifice, and urged them to offer their terrible sufferings and losses to Jesus, atoning for the sins of all the nations during WWII.
I most highly recommend Fr. Paul Glynn's biography of Takashi Nagai, A Song for Nagasaki. Again, thank you for writing this article about Takashi Nagai.

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