A Prayer from Nagasaki

Urakami Tenshudo Church destroyed by atomic bomb, Nagasaki, Japan, January 1946.

Out of the enormous suffering caused by the atomic bomb, a distinctively Japanese and Christian understanding of the bombing was born: that this holocaust was as a sacrifice of a lamb by which the war would end. (See “A Prayer for Peace from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan“, written by Dr. RC Hikota)

Dr Takashi Nagai, a Catholic convert, scientist, doctor, and poet lost his wife in the bombing, and who himself was exposed to it, prepared a funeral address for the victims of the atomic bomb; here is an excerpt:

“…Is there not a profound relationship between the destruction of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Nagasaki, the only holy place in all Japan—was it not chosen as a victim, a pure lamb, to be slaughtered and burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War?…

Only when Nagasaki was destroyed did God accept the sacrifice. Hearing the cry of the human family, He inspired the emperor to issue the sacred decree by which the war was brought to an end. Our church of Nagasaki kept the faith during four hundred years of persecution when religion was proscribed and the blood of martyrs flowed freely. During the war this same church never ceased to pray day and night for a lasting peace. Was it not, then, the one unblemished lamb that had to be offered on the altar of God? Thanks to the sacrifice of this lamb many millions who would otherwise have fallen victim to the ravages of war have been saved.

How noble, how splendid was that holocaust of August 9, when flames soared up from the cathedral, dispelling the darkness of war and bringing the light of peace! In the very depth of our grief we reverently saw here something beautiful, something pure, something sublime. Eight thousand people, together with their priests, burning with pure smoke, entered into eternal life. All without exception were good people whom we deeply mourn. How happy are those people who left this world without knowing the defeat of their country! How happy are the pure lambs who rest in the bosom of God! Compared with them how miserable is the fate of us who have survived!…”

(from The Bells of Nagasaki by Takashi Nagai. You can also see the entire speech here. )

Dr RC Hikota writes:

Nagai called the victims of the atomic bomb “holocaust” (hansai in Japanese). Naturally, many people were shocked and angered by this interpretation, while some were indeed consoled by it. The debate still goes on (for example, see here), but what we have to keep in mind is that to some extent it was a response to the idea that the bombing was a punishment of God to those who were unjust. Also, it should be read in the historical context that Catholics in Nagasaki had suffered discrimination from their fellow Japanese.

Nagai himself remained convinced that he was right to regard the bombing as a holocaust and as an expression of God’s loving providence. (Ref. Leaving My Beloved Children Behind by Takashi Nagai, the English translation currently out of print).

(About Nagai’s life, see A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai-Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb by Fr. Paul Glynn)

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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