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Pope Francis delivered a message about nuclear weapons at Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki, Japan, during his pastoral visit to Japan Nov. 24, 2019. The pope has made several calls for nuclear disarmament during his pontificate.
Pope Francis delivered a message about nuclear weapons at Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki, Japan, during his pastoral visit to Japan Nov. 24, 2019. The pope has made several calls for nuclear disarmament during his pontificate.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

Nuclear era that began in 1945 poses moral questions for the 21st century

Church’s voice is powerful in speaking out against nuclear weapons, advocates say

CLEVELAND — The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bomb explosions 75 years ago this August, hastening the end of World War II.

And while a nuclear arms race emerged during the 1960s before arms control agreements took hold in the 1970s and 1980s, such weapons have not been deployed in warfare since.

Nuclear disarmament advocates want to keep it that way. But they are becoming increasingly concerned that despite significant reductions in nuclear arsenals by the United States and Russia, a new arms race threatens to upend the progress made over the last half-century.

What alarms people such as Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, bishop president of Pax Christi USA, is that the threat nuclear weapons continue to pose to the world is “off the radar screen for so many people.”

“We haven’t sensed the urgency about the nuclear question for a while,” he said.

With climate change in recent years and now the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, the push for racial justice and worldwide economic upheaval commanding attention, “the public consciousness on nuclear weapons is not there and the immediate threat is not seen,” agreed David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Cortright and other observers contend arms control has lost momentum in recent years as treaties that limit the size of arsenals collapse, nonstate actors seek out a nuclear device to legitimize their status, deep-seated polarization keeps politicians apart, and political instability in some countries exposes existing stockpiles of weapons to rogue parties.

Yet, for disarmament advocates there is little reason to abandon hope. They have resisted and organized against anti-disarmament voices for decades. More recently they have had Pope Francis and his repeated castigation of nuclear weapons propelling them forward.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has appealed to the world’s nine nuclear weapons-possessing nations to dismantle their arsenals for the good of humanity. In January, while giving his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, he reiterated his call for a world without nuclear weapons, saying “true peace cannot be built on the threat of a possible total annihilation of humanity.”

“These weapons do not only foster a climate of fear, suspicion and hostility,” he said. “They also destroy hope. Their use is immoral, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home.”

His words echoed the message of his 2015 encyclical on care for the earth, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Advocates have suggested it is time for the world to heed the pope’s words. They also urged bishops’ conferences worldwide to become more vocal in supporting the pope’s stance.

Marie Dennis, senior adviser to the secretary general of Pax Christi International, based in Brussels, Belgium, said the pope’s consistent instruction has made an impression on a slowly growing contingent of people worldwide. She said she is inspired by the work of young people who are tying the existence of nuclear weapons to other threats to the planet including climate change, famine and extreme poverty.

Dennis’ Pax Christi colleague, Mary Yelenick, cited the adoption in 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 United Nations member states as a sign that the world wanted to tell the nuclear powers their vision must change.

Yelenick, the organization’s main representative at the U.N., said passage of the treaty became possible when the U.S. diplomats apparently wrote off the effort and failed to attend sessions at which the pact was discussed. Without U.S. officials present, other nations freely discussed their concerns and realized that their stance on prohibiting nuclear weapons was widely shared, she said.

The treaty goes into effect when 50 nations ratify it. The U.N. reported in mid-July that 38 nations have done so, with the Holy See being among the first.

The Vatican’s moral stance on nuclear weapons extends back to the papacy of St. John XXIII and has been an important voice for the world to hear, said Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University.

The Catholic Church can have major influence on efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons if priests and bishops follow the lead of Pope Francis, said Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“Historically Catholics have played an important role in steps that have reduced nuclear risk and the Church can do so again,” she continued. “But we need a broad call to action, and if the Catholic community is hearing the pope’s message on nuclear disarmament from the pulpit that can go a long way in encouraging individuals to recognize their own responsibility in pushing nuclear disarmament.”


The Ribbon 2020 commemorates 75th anniversary of atomic bombings

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

CLEVELAND — Nuclear disarmament proponents are returning to a creative and hope-filled tradition dating back 35 years to deliver messages of peace to the world and to inspire more people to take up the abolition call.

Called The Ribbon 2020, the campaign commemorates the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

It uses the creativity of individuals, families and communities desiring to express their hope for a world free of nuclear weapons through the window of 36-inch-by-18-inch banners that can be tied together to create one long colorful message of peace.

The effort, said Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz, deputy director of Pax Christi USA, is meant to reawaken awareness that “nuclear weapons, like climate change, are a threat to all that lives.”

Pax Christi USA has taken a lead role in promoting the ribbon project. Sister Ortiz said people from around the world plan to highlight their messages Aug. 1 through social media and by displaying their banners in windows, front yards, at churches and elsewhere.

This year’s ribbon campaign is patterned on The Ribbon of 1985, in which tens of thousands of people brought panels from their home communities, tied them together and assembled a continuous loop of peace messages that stretched around the Pentagon, to the White House and U.S. Capitol and back in a continuous loop.

That effort, forged by Colorado educator, activist and grandmother Justine Merritt, marked the 40th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is the center of Japanese Catholicism.


Bishops renew nuclear disarmament call as 1945 bombing anniversary nears

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Members of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee renewed a long-standing call for nuclear disarmament as the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities neared.

The Committee on International Justice and Peace, chaired by Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, also urged the world community and parishioners to pray for the goal of disarmament, especially during Masses Aug. 9.

The call came in a statement released July 13. The bombings of Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, the center of Japan’s Catholic community, three days later led to the end of World War II.

The eight committee members and two bishop consultants echoed Pope Francis, who during a visit in November to Nagasaki said, “A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere.”

They also cited the pope’s words in urging the world to undertake a “joint and concerted” effort to end the threat nuclear weapons pose to life on earth by building mutual trust and “thus surmount the current climate of distrust.”

The statement expressed concern for “geopolitical conflicts with state and nonstate actors, increasingly sophisticated weapons and the erosion of international arms control frameworks” as threats to world peace.

“The bishops of the United States steadfastly renew the urgent call to make progress on the disarmament of nuclear weapons. The Church in the U.S. proclaims her clarion call and humble prayer for peace in our world which is God’s gift through the salvific sacrifice of Jesus Christ,” the statement said.

The bishops concluded the statement by saying, “Fear, distrust and conflict must be supplanted by our joint commitment, by faith and in prayer, that peace and justice reign now and forever.”

The statement was accompanied by a set of resources, including prayers, study guides and action steps that are available online at www.usccb.org/nuclear.

The members of the USCCB Committee for International Justice and Peace are: Bishops Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania; Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida; and Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi; retired Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York; Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino, California; and Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.

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