Pope Francis expected to take aim at new arms race during Japan trip

A woman sets a floating candle lantern on the river Aug. 6, 2015, in Hiroshima, Japan, in observance of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. Pope Francis' top aide made no secret of what will be on the pope's mind when he visits Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Nov. 24: "the total elimination of nuclear weapons." (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' top aide made no secret of what will be on the pope's mind when he visits Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Nov. 24: "the total elimination of nuclear weapons."

In a late September visit to the United Nations, the aide, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, spoke repeatedly and passionately about the need to stop manufacturing, testing and stockpiling nuclear weapons.

Advertisement

During his Nov. 20-26 visit to Thailand and Japan, Pope Francis will deliver a message at the "hypocenter" or ground zero park in Nagasaki and will hold a meeting for peace later that day at the peace memorial in Hiroshima.

The U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945. Tens of thousands of people died immediately from the blasts and tens of thousands more died over the next several months from burns and radiation sickness. Japan surrendered to the Allies six days after the bombing of Nagasaki.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

Pope Pius XII, who already had expressed concern to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences about plans to develop an atomic weapon, told the academy in 1948 that the "the 'atom bomb' or 'nuclear energy bomb,' (was) the most terrible weapon which the human mind has conceived to date."

For decades, Pope Pius' successors judged the policy of nuclear deterrence to be morally acceptable, but only on the condition that real efforts continued for a complete ban of the weapons.

The position began to change when St. John Paul II visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1981 and noted that despite talk about disarmament, "nuclear stockpiles have grown in quantity and in destructive power. Nuclear weaponry continues to be built, tested and deployed," making the destruction of humanity "a real possibility."

Speaking "on behalf of life, on behalf of humanity, on behalf of the future," St. John Paul called for real steps toward disarmament.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

People took hope from the signing in 1991 of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and from its successor agreement, New START, signed in 2010; but New START expires in 2021 and the Russian government announced in early November that the Trump administration had postponed indefinitely talks to renew the treaty.

Speaking at the United Nations in September, Cardinal Parolin called on the United States and Russia to "take timely action to extend the New START Treaty beyond its scheduled expiration," and he also asked them to "come back to the table to revive talks" on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which expired in February.

Cardinal Parolin urged the international community to keep pressing the superpowers: "We must make every effort to avoid dismantling the international architecture of arms control, especially in the field of weapons of mass destruction."

When the pope visits Japan, he said, "he will not fail to make the strongest appeal possible for concerted steps toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons."

Sister Filo Hirota, a Mercedarian Missionary of Berriz and longtime peace activist, told Catholic News Service that she and other members of the Catholic Council for Justice and Peace of Japan hope for even more.

"We hope that he would say that the prohibition of the production of nuclear weapons is a moral imperative," she said.

Pope Francis is not expected to call out U.S. President Donald Trump for his administration's delay in extending New START or specifically mention the United States and Russia allowing the treaty on intermediate-range weapons to expire. But, Sister Hirota said, "even if he does not make himself so specific, we hope he could refer to the actual political means to move the states toward a world without nuclear weapons."

"We also hope that he would address himself to nuclear power plants," she said. "There is no peaceful use of nuclear energy."

In fact, the pope is scheduled to visit Nov. 25 with victims of Japan's 2011 "triple disaster" when a strong earthquake caused a severe tsunami that flooded the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing a meltdown, hydrogen explosions and the release of radioactive contamination.

In late October, La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State prior to publication, ran an article titled, "It's Time for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons." The article was written by Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

Reports of Russian development of the Burevestnik or Skyfall nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed missile and of a submarine drone believed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons show "the enormous risk that a new nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States represents for the world," Father Christiansen wrote.

If such developments continue, he said, the non-proliferation treaty signed by non-nuclear states will be "just a fig leaf that hides the reluctance" of the superpowers to move toward disarmament.

Every Catholic should know and support the Catholic Church's clear call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, he said, and embrace that teaching along with the defense of the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738), Blue crew, returns to homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., following a strategic deterrence patrol. Maryland is one of five ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ashley Berumen/Released)
The obvious religious motivation of the Plowshares activists did not insulate them from criminal prosecution. The First Amendment prohibits the government from applying different rules to religious believers, but the Plowshares defendants were treated the same as any other intruder on government
Ellen K. BoegelNovember 20, 2019
Alexandra DeSanctis: We are called to defend the least among us, and there is no more weak and defenseless population than unborn human beings.
Alexandra DeSanctisNovember 20, 2019
In death, what we thought was lost is, wondrously, restored to us. What we feared could never be accomplished is achieved.
Terrance KleinNovember 20, 2019
Before my illness I frequently thought of life from the perspective of what I had accomplished. Throughout my illness, God has reminded me that what is most important is what we do for other people and that he is really in charge.
Shawn SextonNovember 20, 2019