Amid growing U.S. - North Korea tension, Vatican hosts meeting on nuclear weapons

Amid growing U.S. – North Korea tension, Vatican hosts meeting on nuclear weapons

Amid growing U.S. – North Korea tension, Vatican hosts meeting on nuclear weapons

Pope Francis addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 2015. Following in the footsteps of Pope Pius XII, every pope in the "nuclear age" has pleaded with the world's powers to lessen the threat of nuclear war and reduce nuclear arsenals. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

On Nov. 10-11 the Vatican will host a summit on creating a world free of nuclear weapons, with the participation of 11 Nobel Peace prize laureates, representatives from NATO, Russia, the United States, Iran and South Korea among others, as well as bishops and members of various Catholic institutions. Pope Francis joins every pope since Pius XII to advocate for the abolition of atomic arsenals.

ROME – “Do not try us.”

With these words President Donald Trump warned North Korea on Nov. 8 that the U.S. has exhausted its patience with the peninsula’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un promises an “abyss of doom” if the White House does not change its hostile policy.

As both countries threaten each other with war, the world contemplates the threat of a nuclear conflict, with the hope that the recent rhetoric does not translate to fact.

Interestingly, while Trump is visiting several countries in Asia and attempting to convince China to impose sanctions against North Korea and withdraw support to its historic ally, the Vatican has called an impressive lineup of experts, advocates and opinion leaders to Rome for a conference promoting global nuclear disarmament.

The Vatican takes a stand for Nuclear Disarmament

The Summit, ‘Perspectives for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Development,’ will take place at the Vatican Nov. 10-11 with the participation of 11 Nobel Peace prize laureates, representatives from NATO, Russia, the United States, Iran and South Korea among others, as well as bishops and members of various Catholic institutions.

The Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development is the primary organizer of the event.

In a statement, Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said that “it’s wrong to speak of a mediation by the Holy See” concerning North Korea, but given the timing and circumstance of the conference it certainly sends a strong statement and reinforces the strong stance against nuclear weapons by Pope Francis.

This is the first meeting of its kind since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was passed in New York on July 7, which was approved by 122 nations, but boycotted by all the countries that already are in possession of nuclear arsenals.

When negotiations for the treaty began in March 2017, Francis sent a message to the UN calling for a “collective and concerted” multilateral effort to eliminate nuclear weapons. He emphasized that international peace and stability “cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”

Now the Vatican is stretching its diplomatic muscles by bringing together some of the most competent and relevant experts on nuclear weapons.

The second day of the summit will feature the testimony of Masako Wada, one of the few survivors of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and who today serves as assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyō, a Japanese-based confederation of survivors of nuclear weapons and experiments.

“The event responds to the priorities of Pope Francis to take action for world peace and to use the resources of creation for a sustainable development and to improve the quality of life for all, individuals and countries, without discrimination,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, in a Vatican communiqué dated Nov. 7.

Popes against Nukes

Ever since nuclear weapons made their entrance into the world, popes have warned against their massive potential for destruction. Pope Pius XII, while being a zealous promoter for technological development and discovery, expressed concern about the “catastrophic” consequences of the misuse of nuclear energy.

It was Pius who dubbed nuclear bombs “the most terrible weapon that the human mind ever conceived,” when the U.S. dropped its atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, killing nearly 200,000 people.

‘The Good Pope,’ St. John XXIII wrote in no uncertain terms, “nuclear weapons must be banned,” in his 1963 encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ (Peace on Earth). In the document the pope called for a stop to the arm’s race that was enveloping the United States and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies.

Only three years later, Blessed Pope Paul VI said that the path toward “a new history, a peaceful history” could only begin with disarmament and urged “never again war” while addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

He later reiterated his plea in a message to the first UN conference on disarmament, criticizing the “balance of terror” created by the arms race and underlining that such a system was a “tragic illusion” that could only lead to catastrophe.

In the short span of 33 days of his pontificate, Pope John Paul I also spoke up against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and listed disarmament and peace as key efforts brought forth by Vatican officials, during his speech to the diplomatic corps in August 1978.

Of course, Saint John Paul II played a key role in bringing the Cold War to an end and was a strong voice against the use of weapons of mass destruction.

When he visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima in 1981, he commented on the growing number of nuclear weapons in the world and even acknowledged the possibility of the atomic destruction of the planet.

“On this very spot where, 35 years ago, the life of so many people was snuffed out in one fiery moment,” the pope said, “I wish to appeal to the whole world on behalf of life, on behalf of humanity, on behalf of the future.”

In 2006, his successor Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for the World Peace Day that in a nuclear war “there would be no victors, only victims.”

On that occasion he called on the countries that openly or secretly amass nuclear weapons, to strive for peace, which could only be acquired through “a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament.”

Francis picked up the baton after his election in 2013, and made several efforts to make disarmament among the top issues on the Vatican’s diplomatic agenda.

During his speeches and public appearances, Francis has often mentioned the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The Argentinian pope has constantly called for global disarmament and the “total elimination of nuclear weapons,” which in his March message to the UN he defined as a “moral imperative.”

On that occasion, Francis warned of “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space,” adding “we need also to ask ourselves how sustainable is a stability based on fear, when it actually increases fear and undermines relationships of trust between peoples.”

The pope said the world needs to go beyond nuclear deterrence: “The international community is called upon to adopt forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and stability and to avoid short-sighted approaches to the problems surrounding national and international security.”

He added that “a concrete approach should promote a reflection on an ethics of peace and multilateral and cooperative security that goes beyond the fear and isolationism that prevail in many debates today.”

This reflection should involve the voices of all people, including religious communities, civil society, and international organizations, Francis said.

“The common destiny of mankind demands the pragmatic strengthening of dialogue and the building and consolidating of mechanisms of trust and cooperation, capable of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons,” the pope said.

Francis will meet participants of the summit at the Vatican on Nov. 10. The Secretary of State of the Holy See, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the leadership of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will speak on behalf of the Vatican during the conference proceedings.

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