Peace, dialogue held hostage by nuclear weapons threat, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CITY (CNS) — The existence of nuclear weapons creates a false sense of
security that holds international relations hostage and stifles peaceful
coexistence, Pope Francis said.

“The threat of their use as well as
their very possession is to be firmly condemned,” the pope told
participants at a conference on nuclear disarmament hosted by the Vatican.

For years, popes and Catholic leaders
had said the policy of nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable as long
as real work was underway on a complete ban of the weapons. In condemning possession
of the weapons, Pope Francis seemed to indicate that deterrence is no longer

Nuclear weapons “exist in the
service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict
but the entire human race,” he said Nov. 10.

The conference, sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery
for Promoting Integral Human Development, brought together 11 Nobel laureates,
top officials from the United Nations and NATO, diplomats from around the world
and experts in nuclear weapons and the disarmament process. They were joined by
scholars, activists and representatives of bishops’ conferences, including
Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice
and Peace.

speakers, including Masako Wada, one of the last survivors of the U.S. atomic
bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, were to discuss the suffering wrought by nuclear

Francis told the group that the “essential” witness of survivors of
the bombings in Japan as well as those suffering the effects of nuclear weapons
testing are prophetic voices that serve “as a warning, above all for
coming generations.”

his speech, the pope said that when it comes to the ideal of a nuclear-free world, a “certain pessimism” exists
and brings with it “considerable expense” as nations modernize
their nuclear arsenals.

a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight
against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational,
ecological and health care projects, and the development of human rights, are
relegated to second place,” he said.

Francis said the existence
of weapons whose use would result in the destruction of humanity
“are senseless even from a tactical standpoint.”

is more, he said, there is the growing danger that the weapons or weapon
technology could fall into the wrong hands.

resulting scenarios are deeply disturbing if we consider the challenges of
contemporary geopolitics, like terrorism or asymmetric warfare,” he said.

With the ongoing tensions surrounding
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the Vatican conference came at a time Pope Francis
described as one of “instability and conflict.”

But despite the troubling global
scenario, he continued, initiatives such as the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of
Nuclear Weapons, provide a dose of “healthy realism” that
“continues to shine a light of hope in our unruly world.”

The treaty, which would enter into force 90 days after at least 50
countries both sign and ratify it, bans efforts to develop, produce, test,
manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear
explosive devices.

Although as of Sept. 20 the treaty had been signed by more than 40
countries, including the Holy See, the United States and other countries
possessing nuclear weapons did not take part in the negotiations and do not plan to sign it.

Pope Francis urged the international community “to reject the culture of
waste” and place care for people suffering “painful disparities
“over “selfish and contingent interests.”

he said, “that is both effective and inclusive can achieve the utopia of a
world free of deadly instruments of aggression, contrary to the criticism of
those who consider idealistic any process of dismantling arsenals.”

At a
pre-conference event in Rome Nov. 9, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, professor
of ethics and global human development at Georgetown University, and Carole
Sargent, director of the university’s Office of Scholarly Publications,
outlined what they saw as major progress in 2017 toward a ban on nuclear

work of grass-roots movements and organizations, including the International
Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, has been
particularly important, Father Christiansen said. And not to be ignored are
hundreds of Catholic women religious who have engaged in major protests, but
also dedicated lobbying efforts. Sargent has been researching the grassroots
involvement of women religious, especially in Japan, the United States and
Great Britain.

Vatican conference, Father Christiansen said, could be a major push in getting the
new U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “supported around
the world.”

Speaking to journalists before the start of the conference, Mohamed
ElBaradei, Nobel
laureate and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
commented on tensions between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s
leader, Kim Jong Un, and the threat of nuclear war.

In August, Trump threatened
to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response
to North Korea’s announcement that it had created a nuclear warhead small
enough to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim responded to
Trump’s “fire and fury” talk by saying his country was preparing to
fire missiles into the waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the western
Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

When asked for his response
on the possibility of a U.S.-North Korea nuclear conflict, ElBaradei had few

“I go to pray,”
he said.

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Rome.

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