I have always wondered how ministers, priests and rabbis could become military chaplains, wearing the uniform of the armed forces, giving tacit approval to killing. Perhaps it started about 1700 years ago when Constantine co-opted the pacifist Christians in such a stealthful and brilliant move that the churches still haven't figured that one out. Much like Pope Urban II blessing the first Crusaders, modern day clergy give their blessing to soldiers (in the name of God) before going off to battle. The principle of Just War gives them their marching orders.
Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, was one of those who blessed killing in the name of Jesus. In 1945 Zabelka was stationed on Tinian Island in the South Pacific. It was the airfield on Tinian from which the Enola Gay and Boxcar took off with their nuclear weapons destined for the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was was Fr. Zabelka who served as priest to those who dropped the bombs - saying mass, giving communion, hearing confessions, and giving soldiers his blessing.
Fr. Zabelka was just doing his job. In an interview by (Rev.) Emmanuel Charles McCarthy many years later, Zabelka said something I found quite interesting: As a Catholic priest my task was to keep my people, wherever they were, close to the mind and heart of Christ. As a military chaplain I was to try to see that the boys conducted themselves according to the teachings of the Catholic Church and Christ on war. When I look back I am not sure I did either of these things very well.
"Close to the mind and heart of Christ"??? "The teachings of...Christ"??? Have I misread my bible? While Fr. Zabelka spent the years following the war searching his soul and gradually coming to the realization that what he had done was terribly wrong, he nevertheless spent years as a priest blessing the killing of tens of thousands of human beings, the antithesis of Jesus' life and teachings. Although he may have come to terms with his god, there was no salvation for those incinerated in the instant of those atomic blasts or those who suffered for hours, days or weeks before dying from the horrific effects of the blast and its radiation.
In reading the interview and a speech Fr. Zabelka from 1985, I found a man of contradictions. But he got one thing right; the following quote from the interview sums things up: I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ's teaching and destroyed His world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process begun with Constantine reached its lowest point-so far.
I call on Christians in every church in every city on Earth this coming Sunday to light candles for all the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (including those who suffer today), and pray for forgiveness for distorting the teachings of the very one to whom they lay claim, who taught us to love our enemies. May we pray and work to become the people we claim to be.
Read Fr. George Zabelka: A Military Chaplain Repents, an interview by (Rev.) Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Read Fr. Zabelka's 1985 speech.
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