ROME – A senior cardinal said Friday “we didn’t know” that U.S. President Donald Trump would be in the Far East when the Vatican convened a global summit on nuclear disarmament this week, calling it a “happy coincidence” and saying Rome hopes to bring together the parties involved in the current crisis surrounding North Korea.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development called the coincidence a sign of “divine providence,” telling reporters that the Vatican hopes to convene those involved in negotiations with North Korea.
“Our point of contact is the local church of South Korea,” Turkson said. “The dicastery is already in communication with the Korean episcopal conference to see how we may have contact also with the regime on the other side. We will see if we succeed. We cannot say right now exactly when this contact will happen.
“We are exploring the possibilities of speaking to them directly,” Turkson said.
Turkson began his speech at Friday’s historic Vatican summit by pointing out that “every day we are bombarded with bad news,” whether it be atrocities humans inflict on one another and the environment, or “the increasing drumbeat of a possible nuclear conflagration,” stating that today, “humanity stands on the precipice of a nuclear holocaust.”
The summit, “Perspectives for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Development,” is taking place at the Vatican Nov. 10-11 with the participation of Nobel Peace prize winners, representatives from NATO, Russia, the United States, Iran and South Korea among others, as well as bishops and members of various Catholic institutions.
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 major nuclear powers.
Turkson said the meeting was an opportunity to share “a piece of good news” and testify the commitment by many countries, individuals and organizations “to dare to hope, eventually, for a world free of nuclear weapons.”
The cardinal highlighted that today the world is once more facing the fear of global catastrophe, in a way that has not been experienced since the 1963 Cuban missile crisis.
“Nuclear weapons have become again a global problem, affecting nations and impacting our future and future generations,” Turkson said.
“Our conversations are critical, [as] the decisions made by the global human family about peace and war in the coming months and years, particularly those with political responsibility, will have profound consequences for the very future of humanity and our planet,” he added.
The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also acknowledged the complexity of current issues and the rising global tensions, pointing to the fact that the number of nuclear weapons globally has been steadily increasing.
Citing the words of Pope Francis in his address to the United Nations in March 2017, he said that the document offers a series of recommendations for a world free of nuclear weapons:
- The inadequacy of defense systems based on nuclear weapons.
- The catastrophic human and environmental impact of the use of nuclear weapons.
- The waste of human and economic resources spent on updating those weapons, resources that are diverted from the overall pursuit of goals such as peace and integral human development.
- The creation of a climate of fear and conflict.
The Vatican’s number two also commented on the need for global education for peace and disarmament if the dream of a world without nuclear weapons is to become a reality.
“This is to be achieved by means of multilateralism, based on dialogue and responsible, honest and consistent cooperation of all the members of the community of nations,” he said.
Echoing the words of the pope, Parolin added that, “any response to the threat of nuclear weapons should be collected and concerted, based on mutual trust. This trust can be built only through dialogue that is truly directed toward the common good, and not to the protection or aid of particular interests.”
Such dialogue, as far as possible, he said, “should include all.”
The Vatican’s top diplomat also expressed his hope that the summit be a motor toward peace and multilateral security that moves “beyond the fear surrounding the debate on nuclear arms, and beyond the risk of an isolationism present in current discussion.”
Finally, Parolin called for a “reconsideration of priorities” in light of the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, which proposed to set aside global military funds (estimated to have been around $1.6 trillion in 2015, with the United States comprising about a third) to help the poor.
“Those resources all could be directed toward the generous roles of development and peace,” Parolin said.
“The proposal does recognize how important it is that the international community avoid a short-sighted approach to the problems of national and global security, and adopt instead long-term actions on behalf of peace and security,” he said.
Nobel peace laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank, a microfinance organization and community development bank in Bangladesh, Mohammed Yanus, focused his speech on the poor and criticized what he called the “human insanity” of nuclear weapons.
He expressed concern “with the sound bites we are hearing,” and “national leaders talking about nuclear weapons like two kids fighting with their toys. Many dark clouds are taking place right now.”
He pointed to the irony of signing climate change prevention deals to save the planet, or trying to address the issue of global poverty, while “bundles and bundles of nuclear weapons just need one push to destroy the whole world.”
For Yanus, a distorted form of capitalism is the main issue behind these global tensions, because it is based on the wrong interpretation that human beings simply act based on selfish behavior. The Nobel peace winner called for the creation of “selfless businesses” that make the world better without being based exclusively on profit.
François Bugnion, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, emphasized the long-term consequences of nuclear warfare, as demonstrated by the care that his organization still provides victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings more than 70 years later.
“Research and experience has documented that the consequences of nuclear weapons are not limited in time,” Bugnion said. “Not only will the survivors suffer for decades from the consequences of radiation exposure, but the consequences will also affect future generations.”
The representative of the Swiss humanitarian organizations said that because of radiation, the majority of victims of a nuclear bomb would be denied the medical assistance that they need since the area would be too dangerous to approach for doctors.
He also pointed to the fact that with “rising regional and international tensions, this is a discussion that is both timely and urgent” since eminent security and military experts have reached the conclusion that the risk of nuclear warfare has reached levels not seen since the end of the cold war.
“The world needs hope for a future free from nuclear weapons,” Bugnion continued. “Humanity cannot keep living under the dark shadow of nuclear warfare and the unspeakable suffering that would result from it, not to mention the risk of complete annihilation of mankind.”