NEW YORK – A “Pilgrimage of Peace” to Japan led by two U.S. archbishops will soon depart, with advocacy for the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide and for the creation of a peaceful global environment chief among their priorities.
Led by Archbishops John Wester of Santa Fe and Paul Etienne of Seattle, and joined by organizations and archdiocesan officials dedicated to nuclear disarmament advocacy, the delegation also hopes to strengthen ties with the bishops of Japan.
“During this Pilgrimage of Peace to Japan, I hope to encourage conversation about universal, verifiable nuclear disarmament and walk together towards a new future of peace, a new promised land of peace, a new culture of peace and nonviolence where we all might learn to live in peace as sisters and brothers on this beautiful planet, our common home,” Wester said in a statement.
Etienne, in a statement of his own, added that to build a community where humanity can flourish, it’s important to “keep educating ourselves, praying for peace, and appealing for verifiable nuclear disarmament, which reflects Catholic teaching and is the path for the common good.”
The delegation will depart for the pilgrimage on July 31, with an itinerary that includes stops in Tokyo, Akita, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. They will return to the States on August 12. The trip is funded by grants and personal contributions; according to organizers, no diocesan funds were used.
The trip follows a May open letter from Wester, Etienne, Archbishop Peter Michiaki Nakamura of Nagasaki and Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama of Nagasaki, where they implored leaders of the Group of Seven countries to take concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.
The letter came as G7 leaders met in Japan from May 19-21. Out of that meeting leaders from the G7 countries committed to working towards a world absent of nuclear weapons, and called on Russia, Iran, China and North Korea to cease nuclear escalation. Beyond the joint statement in support of nuclear disarmament, G7 leaders took no concrete steps towards that goal.
As of 2022, Russia and the United States have far and away the largest nuclear arsenals. According to data published in March by the Federation of American Scientists, Russia and the United States have 5,899 and 5,244 nuclear warheads, respectively. Third on the list is China with 410, followed by France (290), the United Kingdom (225), Pakistan (170), and India (164). No other country has an arsenal of more than 90 nuclear warheads, the data shows.
Both the Santa Fe and Seattle archdioceses, led by Wester and Etienne, have ties to nuclear weapons. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is the U.S. diocese with the most spending on nuclear weapons per capita, and contains two weapons laboratories and the nation’s largest nuclear weapons depository. The Archdiocese of Seattle is the U.S. diocese that has deployed the most strategic weapons.
Meanwhile, two of the dioceses the delegation will visit on the pilgrimage, the Dioceses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are the only two dioceses in the world that have suffered from atomic attacks when the United States bombed both cities during World War II.
As part of the pilgrimage to Japan, the delegation will pray a novena for peace from August 1 to August 9, the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.
Wester has been especially outspoken about the need for nuclear disarmament in recent years, prompted both by a 2017 trip he took to Japan, and the reality of his diocese’s involvement in the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. In his statement on the upcoming pilgrimage, he said he holds out hope that one day nuclear threats can be a thing of the past.
“I hope one day, we will stop building these weapons, disarm our state and our world, and embark on a new future without the fear and terror of the nuclear threat,” Wester said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg