I’d never heard this story before, but just happened upon it in the UK’s Catholic Herald: The Priests who Survived the Atomic Bomb. Here’s an excerpt:
August 6 is also an important date in world history: the fateful day on which the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. On that day, a Monday, at 8.15 in the morning, an American B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped its bomb “Little Boy”, which fell to a predetermined detonation height of about 1,900 feet above the city. It exploded with a blinding flash, creating a giant fireball, which vaporised practically everything and everyone within a radius of about a mile of the point of impact. It is estimated that up to 80,000 people were directly killed by the blast, and by the end of the year, that figure had climbed considerably higher, due to injuries and the effects of radiation. Over two thirds of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed.
But in the midst of this terrible carnage, something quite remarkable happened: there was a small community of Jesuit Fathers living in a presbytery near the parish church, which was situated less than a mile away from detonation point, well within the radius of total devastation. And all eight members of this community escaped virtually unscathed from the effects of the bomb. Their presbytery remained standing, while the buildings all around, virtually as far as the eye could see, were flattened.
Fr Hubert Schiffer, a German Jesuit, was one of these survivors, aged 30 at the time of the explosion, and who lived to the age of 63 in good health. In later years he travelled to speak of his experience, and this is his testimony as recorded in 1976, when all eight of the Jesuits were still alive. On August 6 1945, after saying Mass, he had just sat down to breakfast when there was a bright flash of light.
Since Hiroshima had military facilities, he assumed there must have been some sort of explosion at the harbour, but almost immediately he recounted: “A terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunderstroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me [and] whirled me round and round…” He raised himself from the ground and looked around, but could see nothing in any direction. Everything had been devastated.
He had a few quite minor injuries, but nothing serious, and indeed later examinations at the hands of American army doctors and scientists showed that neither he nor his companions had suffered ill-effects from radiation damage or the bomb. Along with his fellow Jesuits, Fr Schiffer believed “that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the rosary daily in that home.”
The Franciscan Friary in Nagasaki also survived the bomb that was dropped on that city on 9 August. This friary had been founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, who had died in Auschwitz almost exactly 4 years before the bombing.
The article makes an interesting connection between the atomic bombs and the miracle of the sun at Fatima:
Consider, too, that the poor people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered as man-made “suns” exploded in their midst causing horrific devastation.
I’d never really thought about that before, but nuclear bombs are pretty much “man-made ‘suns'” aren’t they? Perhaps there was a very specific warning in that miracle of the sun. A warning that became horrific reality in Japan in 1945, and might possibly become reality again elsewhere in the world at most any time.
This story should definitely be better-known, and we should re-dedicate ourselves to living out the message of Fatima.