Responding to a request from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) which received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, this morning, Pope Francis reiterated his call to people everywhere “to work with determination to build a world without nuclear arms.”
He issued the call from his study-window in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace after praying the Angelus with thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at midday on Sunday.
Francis began by recalling that “today the Nobel Prize for Peace will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Arms.” He went on to declare that “this recognition coincides with the United Nations Day for Human Rights and underlines the strong link between human rights and nuclear disarmament.”
“Indeed,” he said, “to commit oneself to safeguard the dignity of all persons, and especially of those who are the weakest and most disadvantaged, means to work with determination for the building of a world without nuclear arms.”
He concluded by praying that “God may give us the ability to collaborate together to build our common home” and, then drawing on his encyclical “Laudato Si’.” he said, “We have the freedom, the intelligence and the capacity to guide technology, to limit our power, in the service of peace and true progress.”
“We have the freedom, the intelligence and the capacity to guide technology, to limit our power, in the service of peace and true progress.”
His call came in response to a personal request made to him by Ms. Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish-born executive director ICAN, when she met him in the Vatican on Nov. 10. She spoke with him after he addressed a two-day symposium on nuclear disarmament organized by the Dicastery for the Promoting Integral Human Development, in which he categorically condemned not only “the threat of their use” but also “their very possession.”
Concluding the presentation speech at the award ceremony this morning, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said that "through its inspiring and innovative support for the U.N. negotiations on a Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, ICAN has played an important role in bringing about what in our day and age is equivalent to an international peace congress.”
She then gave a nod to the Vatican, saying, “In closing, I would like to quote His Holiness Pope Francis, who recently declared: “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.” The Norwegian Nobel Committee shares this view. Moreover, it is our firm conviction that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.”
After meeting the pope, Ms. Fihn spoke to America: “I am not a religious person and I am usually not very impressed with celebrities, but I was very taken with Pope Francis, and when he came into the room I was very moved by his presence. He was very warm when I greeted him, and I asked him to ask people to pray for the abolition of nuclear weapons on Dec. 10, international Human Rights Day, when we receive the Nobel Peace Prize.” Francis responded to her request with today’s statement.
Ms. Fihn also praised Pope Francis for his “very significant” statement condemning “the possession of nuclear arms” and told America, “he is giving moral leadership” in this field and “that is very important because what the world desperately needs now is moral leadership.” She emphasized that the movement to abolish nuclear weapons “is going to need the support of religious communities if we are going to be able to take this forward.” She believes there is “an opportunity” to do so now because of “the tensions between the United States and North Korea and the growing fear of a confrontation.”
Ms Fihn recalled that under Pope Francis, the Holy See “quickly ratified the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons” (that is, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear arms). That treat was approved at a United Nations conference on July 7, with 122 states voting in favor, but 69 (including all the states with nuclear arms) did not vote. ICAN led a worldwide campaign for the approval of this treaty, which led to its being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Today nine states possess such arms: the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The United States and Russia together have 14,000 of the 15,000 nuclear weapons known to exist in the world, 2,000 of which “are still on high alert,” according to Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and one of the main speakers at the Vatican symposium.
Pope Francis and ICAN have now both proclaimed that it is high time to abolish nuclear arms from the planet, as the risk of their use is now greater than ever before.