Life Arises from Hiroshima: Chaplain George Zabelka

Nagasaki after the bombing

Nagasaki shortly after the bombing. Somehow the arch of a ruined temple remained standing.

From Dr. Wayne Baker:
This week, as the world remembers the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I hope you will widely share this series by international peace trainer and author Daniel Buttry. Here is the second part of Dan’s series …


At the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we look at the questions of values transformation that saw life, hope, and new questions arise from the ashes.

George Zabelka in uniform

George Zabelka in uniform

George Zabelka was a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II. Toward the end of the war he was stationed on Tinian Island with the 509th Composite Group. That was the Atomic Bomb Group that included the crews of the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a zealous military chaplain at the time.

Then Chaplain Zabelka visited Nagasaki as part of the occupation forces after the war. He was struck especially by the suffering of the children from the atomic bombing. In a separate story about the 70th anniversary, historians point out that most Americans never saw the extent of the suffering until the 1950s because of strict U.S. censorship of photos, films and reporting on the devastation.

Zabelka’s visit to Nagasaki gave him a rare post-war perspective. He said, “This was the beginning of a whole new kind of worm squirming in my stomach that something was wrong. These little children had nothing to do with the war. Why were they suffering?”

Then in 1973 he went on a retreat with Emmanuel Charles McCarthy where he heard about nonviolence, leading to his “about face” regarding war and nonviolence.

Zabelka dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and working for peace between people. On the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima he undertook a “Pilgrimage of Forgiveness” to meet with victims and ask forgiveness for his and his Church’s silence. He asked forgiveness “for bringing you death instead of the fullness of life, misery instead of mercy.” (Read the text of a talk he gave on the40th anniversary; or read more about his life on Wikipedia.)

Have you ever asked forgiveness for serious hurt you’ve caused others?

What had to happen inside you to bring you to that point?

What values gave you the conviction and courage to ask forgiveness?

START A CONVERSATION … You are free to share, repost or print out these columns to start a discussion with friends or in your small group. You may also want to share this new column about worldwide responses to the 70th anniversary.

SING THE SONG … Australian folk musician Peter Kearney wrote a folk song about Zabelka. There’s a brief audio clip of the music on CD-Baby and you can read Kearney’s lyrics here.

WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY … The following film is the entire hour-long British documentary on George Zabelka, called “The Reluctant Prophet.” You may want to share this film with friends or your small group. You can find the film on YouTube and on Vimeo if you want to share it further.

Care to read more?

Cover Blessed Are the Peacemakers by Daniel ButtryThe Rev. Dr. Daniel L. Buttry is one of the world’s leading peacemakers. You can read more about his work and three of his most popular books here. In addition, Buttry edits his own online magazine, where you fill find more than 100 inspiring profiles of men and women daring to make peace around the world.

This week, as part of his special series on Hiroshima, he has published a special multi-media column that includes six Hiroshima-related music videos.

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