Atomic bombing survivor and peace advocate Setsuko Thurlow met Pope Francis during a general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, joining a group that carried a symbolic flame from Japan in an appeal for the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons.
Thurlow, 87, a Japanese-Canadian activist who delivered a speech at the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, was accompanied by members of an interfaith nonprofit group called Earth Caravan, with the delegation bringing a lamp kindled from the "flame of peace" in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, won the Nobel Peace Prize of the year.
The flame is said to have been taken from the burning ruins of Hiroshima after the U.S. nuclear attack of Aug. 6, 1945 during World War II and since maintained with the intention that it be extinguished only when the threat of nuclear weapons no longer exists.
As a gesture of hope and faith that such a day will come, the group asked the pontiff to put out the transported flame. They also raised the issue of nuclear abolition as a way to ensure the devastating weapons are never deployed again.
Japan is the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, with the Hiroshima bombing followed by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki three days later.
Among the group's attendees at the papal audience, held each Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, was the 13-year-old granddaughter of a Nagasaki survivor. Yusa Okada, currently a first-year student in junior high school, is the same age now as Thurlow was when she survived the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.
For her advocacy work with ICAN, including many visits to the United Nations to share her experiences and urge governments to take action, Thurlow was one of the representatives who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the campaign in 2017.
It marked the first time since 2009 that an entity or person had received the prize for work related to nuclear abolition, following then U.S. President Barack Obama receiving the award for outlining his vision of a nuclear-free world.
Pope Francis is scheduled to make his first official trip to Japan in November, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki expected to be on his itinerary.