Column 6 The Message of Pope Francis
by Akira Kawasaki
Pope Francis visited Japan between November 23 and November 26, 2019, the first papal visit in 38 years. He toured the atomic-bombed cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima on November 24. These visits were conducted on a very tight schedule, departing from Tokyo that morning and returning in the evening after visiting the two cities. The fact that he went to such an extent to visit both atomic-bombed cities demonstrates his deep concern about nuclear weapons.
Pope Francis delivered a message1 on nuclear weapons at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in the morning.Describing Nagasaki as the “city which witnessed the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear attack,” the Pope concluded that the arms race in a world where many people suffer through poverty “wastes precious resources” and represents “an affront crying out to heaven.”
Warning that the world faces “a dismantling of the international arms control framework” and “an erosion of multilateralism,” the Pope urged the world to act in line with “the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” He also urged political leaders not to forget that “these [nuclear] weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security.”
In an evening “Meeting for peace” at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Pope Francis said: “The use of atomic energy forpurposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral, … We will be judged on this.”2 Although the text of his message prepared and distributed before the delivery had described only the “use” of nuclear weapons as immoral, the Pope decided to add “possession” after his arrival Japan.3
Pope Francis thus clearly criticized the nuclear deterrence theory that accepts nuclear weapons as a necessary evil that will not be used, but should be possessed just in case.
In Hiroshima, Pope Francis also said, “How can we speak about peace even as we justify illegitimate actions by speeches filled with discrimination and hate?” “A true peace can only be an unarmed peace,” he said, warning against the growing xenophobia, “me first” unilateralism and military expansion in the world today. The Pope took care to note that among the Hibakusha of Hiroshima, or those who were exposed to the atomic bomb, were also non- Japanese. “They came from different places, had different names, and some spoke different languages.” He also further spoke of the contemporary challenge of passing on the memory of the atomic bombings, as we now approach the 75th anniversary. “We cannot allow present and future generations to lose the memory of what happened here.”
Before delivering this message, Pope Francis greeted representatives of various religious groups and spoke with dozens of Hibakusha, while taking their hands. This stance sent a message even stronger than each of the words quoted above.
During the press conference held on the return flight from Japan, Pope Francis spoke of the moving experience of meeting with atomic bombing survivors, and stated that the immorality of both use and possession of nuclear weapons should be clearly included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.4
Given the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, these remarks will have great global impact. The atomic-bombed cities certainly made a global impact, which will be imprinted in the pages of history.
Akira Kawasaki is Executive Committee member of the Tokyo-based non-governmental organization Peace Boat and belongs to the International Steering Group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
1 Address of the Holy Father on Nuclear Weapons, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/ messages/pont-messages/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20191124_messaggio-arminucleari- nagasaki.html.
2 Meeting for Peace: Address of the Holy Father, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/ event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2019/11/24/messaggio-incontropace-hiroshima.html.
3 NHK, December 18, 2019.
4 Press Conference on the Return Flight to Rome, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/ speeches/2019/november/documents/papa-francesco_20191126_voloritorno-giappone.html.