Seven students at a high school in the western Japan city of Hiroshima have handcrafted two "orizuru" folded cranes from copperplates, with prayers for peace, as a gift to Pope Francis, who is set to visit Japan for four days from Saturday.
"I hope the gift will help the pope know the desire for peace held by people of Hiroshima, an atomic-bombed city, and Japan," one of the students, Takumi Sato, 18, a third-grader at Hiroshima Municipal Technical High School, said.
Hiroshima was flattened by a U.S. atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, in the closing days of World War II. The city of Nagasaki, southwestern Japan, suffered the same fate three days later.
The copperplates used to create the two cranes, which are each 15 centimeters long and 8 centimeters high, were part of the roof of Memorial Cathedral for World Peace, built in 1954 to pay tribute to the atomic bomb victims. They were provided by the Catholic Hiroshima Diocese, as the Hiroshima cathedral underwent seismic-strengthening work.
In 2005, the high school started a program for its students to make copperplate orizuru cranes. About 400 to 500 cranes are created a year and sold at events including its annual culture festivals, with revenue donated to a foundation for the preservation of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the remains of a Hiroshima building that survived the nuclear attack on the city.
Such cranes have been presented to dignitaries both at home and abroad, including the 14th Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a nongovernmental organization, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
The copperplates used for the cranes for Pope Francis were 0.3 to 0.35 millimeter thick, about three times thicker than copperplates normally used to create such cranes.
The students had difficulties folding the thicker plates although they used tools to make the two cranes. They spent two to four days to complete the cranes.
As high school students in Hiroshima, "we made these cranes with the wish for peace. We pray for the day when there will be no more war and nuclear weapons in the world," the students wrote on a message card to be attached to the gift cranes for the pope.
"It feels great to be able to give the cranes to the pope because we put a lot of effort into making them," Sato said. "I hope the gift will remind the pope of and help him think about Hiroshima after returning to the Vatican."
Pope Francis, 82, is scheduled to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima on Sunday to send out messages for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons throughout the world. The Japan visit will be the second by a pope, after the first visit in February 1981 by then Pope John Paul II.