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A Filipino (Bicolano) Catholic view of the Hiroshima Bombing

Amidst the specter of Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine (or elsewhere), the 78th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing brings currency to the folly of nuclear deterrence and reminds us of the horrors of the twin bombing where over 200,000 Japanese, young and old, died from the immediate and after affects of the atomic bomb.

Before America began justifying the stockpiling of nuclear weapons as a deterrence, it first pioneered the use of it by demonstrating its effectiveness as a weapon of mass destruction on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki whose imperial government refused to surrender unconditionally.

Russia followed thereafter and tested the most powerful bomb in the world – the Tzar Bomba. The race for building the nuclear weapons arsenal began in earnest. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when Russia deployed their nuclear missiles to Cuba that brought the world to the brink of annihilation?

Today, according to, there are approximately 12,500 nuclear warheads worldwide with Russia leading the count at 5,799 followed by the United States at 5,428. Between these two countries alone accounts for about 90% of the world’s arsenal. China has 410, Francia 290, United Kingdom 225, Pakistan 170, India 164, Israel 90 and North Korea 20.

As a Catholic, I agree with Pope Francis and the late Pope John Paul II, about the immorality of the use of nuclear weapons and that nothing can ever justify using it even to end a war. Despite the drumbeats of nuclear war getting stronger, however, Catholics around the globe have become complacent to such danger of total annihilation. Should this issue be a concern for me? Certainly!

In the Philippines, there was nothing in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) or the Archbishop of Caceres website by way of pastoral statements or news regarding the annual commemoration in Japan and what message Filipino Catholics should glean from it. The fact that Sunday, August 6 carried a lot of significance for Catholics being the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the 30th anniversary of Veritatis Splendor, and the Catholic Church's role in the 1945 bombing of the Japanese cities.

Going back in time will help us understand the significance of the day. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind project Trinity, unleashed the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Alamogordo’s Test Range in New Mexico. Before the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Enola Gay personnel and the bomb itself received blessings from a U.S. Air Force Catholic chaplain, Father George Zabelka. Years later, Fr. Zabelka admitted his egregious mistake of attaching a fraudulent image of Jesus Christ to the endeavor.

In our lives as Catholics, how often do we attach the name of Christ in our own idiocy? Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds us of what we should seek through Jesus’ own prophesy of death and resurrection. As Bicolanos celebrate the annual Peñafrancia Fiesta, we need to find the transfigured image of Jesus amidst lives’ darkness. We all must bear our own crosses, as Jesus reminded his apostles before his crucifixion.

The thought of nuclear weapons in war is a cross that everybody should carry and speak of its evil. By ignoring the threat, we are repeating Fr. Zabelka’s grievous mistake. Earth is a place we call home. It is an important place for us, and for our children and our children’s children. Same thing with the frailty of human lives that inhabits such a place that if we don’t protect it, it’s gone forever as the psalmist says. When the wind blows from such powerful detonation, everything it passes vanishes.

Such is the Catholic morality engendered in Veritatis Splendor. What must we do to inherit the Kingdom of God and have eternal life? The twin bombings in Japan created blankets of darkness that clouded earth. After the radioactive clouds cleared the air, however, mankind has isolated itself from the truth because “man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and God in order to direct it towards idols.”

Call it dualism or proportionalism, believing that the stockpiling of nuclear weapons is justifiable for the good it brings using criteria of what makes something good or bad. It reminds me of a line in Netflix’s “Jesus Revolution” - “What if the truth is really just opinions” implies the absence of truth. The horror morality of it, of course, is if Putin actually makes good on his threat. Then the undeniable truth will be revealed as the psalmist has predicted.

Chapter 1 of Veritatis Splendor talks about a rich young man who asked Jesus during one of his public ministries here on earth. “What good must I do to inherit eternal life,” he asked. Such a loaded question really touches on human actions (the good) that are morally assessable. Fr. Zabelka’s decision to bless the bombing sortie has the semblance of proportionality – good intentions or good consequences (minimizing death or stopping the war) constitute the elements of a moral conception of “what good should I do” as the young man posed to Jesus.

In other words, how important is “good intentions” if what one does goes against the Commandments or official Church teaching? Veritatis Splendor reminds us of the age-old teaching of conscience as a source of moral knowledge. While the encyclical is meant for bishops who are responsible within his jurisdiction for sound teaching and moral guidance, it also addresses the faithful in a general sense because eventually, it is the person who makes choices (freedom).

In Chapter 3, Pope John Paul II addresses two important thoughts in relation to freedom and conscience of truth as explained in Chapter 2: 1) that the current state of the world (modernity) undermines about such a view (of life) but imposes for Catholics to live up to the high standards of faithfulness to God’s law which prohibits intrinsically wrong acts even if justifiable by good consequences.

The other thought is that obedience to such prohibitions (i.e., thou shall not kill) can be costly to Christians but is part of faithfulness of the Christian life and is richly empowered and blessed by the generosity of divine grace. The “good” as sought by the young man must unify human freedom and law in the moral life in pursuit of eternal life.

Finally, two important points Pope Francis’ shared in Lisbon, Portugal during World Youth Day. “How do I pray – like a parrot (just repeating like novena prayers), blah blah blah? Or taking a nap in front of the tabernacle (place of worship) because I don’t know how to talk to the Lord?” His hope was for everyone to regain the prayer of adoration that everyone has lost, including members of the clergy.

His other point is for the Gospel to reach everyone. “Homilies can sometimes be torture, he said. “Blah blah blah.” He challenged the clergy to come around to a new idea of homilies that are “brief and with a clear, loving message.” What a great idea!


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