Some years ago, on a bright, clear August morning, four Jesuit missionaries had just finished having breakfast together, and were going through their daily routine at the Church of Our Lady’s Assumption. Father Superior Lassalle looked out the window of his room and thought. Father Cieslik went to his room and read. Father Schiffer went to his room to write. Father Kleinsorge went up to a room on the third floor and also read. “Suddenly,” Father Schiffer recounted, “between one breath and another, in the twinkling of an eye, an unearthly, unbearable brightness was all around me; a light unimaginably brilliant, blinding, intense. I could not see, or think. For one short moment everything was at a standstill. I was left alone swimming in this ocean of light, helpless and frightened. The room seemed to catch its breath in deadly silence.” Then, “a terrible explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me round and round like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.”
The day: August 6, 1945. The location: Hiroshima, Japan. The event, of course, was the detonation of the first atomic bomb that exploded with a force equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT. The plasma fireball was about 1200 feet in diameter, with a temperature of almost 11,000° Fahrenheit. What wasn’t consumed in the plasma fireball was immediately set on fire. On a straight line, the wood-framed Church of Our Lady’s Assumption was located about a mile from the hypocenter of the blast, which was just outside the plasma fireball.
Father Kleinsorge’s memory of what came next had a blank spot. He doesn’t know how, but the next thing he remembered he was bleeding from some small cuts and wandering around the vegetable garden. Father Schiffer was partially buried under a wall. Father Superior Lassalle had cuts on his back from the flying glass of the window. Father Cieslik was miraculously unhurt. When the four looked around them, they saw that most everything else was just… gone.
Nine days later peace came when Emperor Hirohito went on the radio to inform his people of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies. It was August 15, the feast of our Blessed Mother’s Assumption.
Despite being exposed to quite lethal doses of radiation, none of the four priests suffered long-term effects. Fr. Kleinsorge died in 1977; Fr. Schiffer died in 1982; Fr. Cieslik died in 1988; and Fr. Superior Lassalle died in 1990. Often, Fr. Schiffer would be asked why he felt the four of them survived, even though they were so close to the center of the blast. He would always reply: “We were under the special protection of God. We survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.“
Certainly there were other Catholics in Hiroshima. After all, that’s why the priests were there. Certainly some of them also were devoted to living the Message of Fatima and prayed the Rosary every day. And certainly, some of those people’s bodies were incinerated in an instant. But just as certainly, if they were in a state of grace, while their bodies were destroyed in the atomic bomb’s fiery blast, their souls were spared from the fires of Hell. And Our Lady, the Mediatrix of all Graces, just as certainly gave them the graces they needed to be in that state of grace in their hour of death.
Sometimes, things in life happen to us that can feel like an atomic bomb going off. One minute, there’s peace. We’re going about our daily routine. Then out of nowhere there’s a flash, a whirlwind, a deafening roar, a feeling like we can’t breathe. Confusion, fear, helplessness.
This is the refiner’s fire. This is the test. This is the refiner asking us, “Are you with me? Or not? Do you still believe in me? Or not? Do you still trust me? Or not?” Those who are with Him, survive the blast. Those who are with Him are saved.
Life is filled with the unexpected. There are times when our peace is shattered, our world flattened or set on fire. But those who survive, the disciples whom Christ loves, stay close to His mother, because she gives us the grace to stay close to her Son.
Live the Message of Fatima. Say the Rosary every day.
Virgin Most Powerful, Our Lady of Fatima… Pray for us!