Report from Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

[Ed. Note: The following is a brief symposium report from Rev. Paul Lansu who took part in the Pax Christi International delegation at the Vatican-sponsored conference, “Prospects for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament,” in Vatican City, 10-11 November 2017.]

Possession of nuclear weapons is illegal and immoral

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organised an international conference on “Prospects for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament” at Vatican City on 10 and 11 November 2017.

The Vatican conference represented the first global gathering on atomic disarmament after the approval of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, signed by 122 countries of the international community (including the Holy See) in New York on 7 July 2017, and opened to signatures 20 September 2017, in the same city. The conference was organised at the right moment and wants to push the legally binding instrument by signing and ratifying the treaty by all nations. The Holy See was one of the first to sign and ratify.

The theme of the conference is related to the concerns of the Holy See on critical issues related to the human family today: development, human rights, disarmament and ecology. The conference gave special attention to the needs of the victims of armed conflicts, whose dignity is endangered. The Holy See keeps promoting peace in general and the ban of all nuclear weapons particularly.

Pax Christi International well represented

About 350 participants were registered. Pax Christi International was represented by Msgr. Kevin Dowling and Marie Dennis, Co-Presidents; Jonathan Frerichs, UN representative in Geneva; Mary Yelenick, UN representative in New York; Susi Snyder, Programme Manager for PAX in the Netherlands; Pat Gaffney, Coordinator Pax Christi UK; Msgr. Marc Stenger, Fr. Alain Paillard and Michel Drain, Pax Christi France; Sr. Filo Hirota, Former Board Member of Pax Christi International and National Commission Justice and Peace of Japan; Selma van Oostwaard, Youth Delegate PAX from the Netherlands; Fr. Renato Sacco, Secretary Pax Christi Italy; Msgr. Luigi Bettazzi, Former President Pax Christi International; Msgr. Allwyn D’Silva, Former Coordinator of the Documentation, Research and Training Centre, member organisation in Mumbai, India; Prof. Tom Sauer, Pax Christi Flanders; Fr. Paul Lansu, Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International.

Among the participants were eleven Nobel Peace Prize winners and key church leaders as well as advisors of different bishops’ conferences and delegates from international (governmental) organisations, academic institutes and civil society. The conference has been presided over by H. Em. Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery. H. Em. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness the Pope, introduced the issue of perspectives for a world free from nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament. Susy Snyder from PAX spoke about the role of civil society in educating and mobilising citizens for integral disarmament and by advocating or influencing politicians and diplomats to work for the international ban treaty being implemented.

Modernising and developing new nuclear weapons is a great expense

On Friday 10 November 2017, Pope Francis received the participants in a special audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace where he gave an official address. On different occasions the Holy Father has mentioned the threat of peace by nuclear arms and the waste of resources that could be used to fight poverty and promote development. The Holy Father lamented that the “escalation of the arms race continues unabated,” noting that modernising arms and developing new nuclear weapons is a great expense for nations and takes away the ability to address “real” priorities: “The fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects, and the development of human rights.”

Focus on the “real” problems

In this symposium you have met to discuss issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict, the Pope said. A certain pessimism might make us think that “prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament” appear increasingly remote. Indeed, the escalation of the arms race, the Pope stated, continues unabated and the price of modernising and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.

If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned. They exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race. International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security, the Holy Father specified.

Recently, the Pope continued, for example, in a historic vote at the United Nations, the majority of the members of the international community determined that nuclear weapons are not only immoral, but must also be considered an illegal means of warfare. This decision filled a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions. Even more important is the fact that it was mainly the result of a “humanitarian initiative” sponsored by a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organisations, churches, academies and groups of experts.

In many statements during this Conference the position of the Holy See on nuclear disarmament of 7 December 2014 has been reaffirmed stating that the use, the threat and the possession of nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.

On Saturday 11 November 2017, a Eucharistic Concelebration took part in the Saint Peter’s Basilica presided over by H. Em. Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson. The Mass was followed by a Homage to St. John XXIII, author of the encyclical Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963).

New Momentum on Sunday 10 December 2017

In conjunction with the World Council of Churches, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Pax Christi International, it was suggested to Pope Francis and to the Dicastery to call on Sunday 10 December 2017 all parishes and communities worldwide to pray and reflect on nuclear disarmament on the occasion of the Nobel Peace Award ceremony in Oslo. The focus should be on respecting human rights and to act in favour of a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In Oslo on 10 December 2017, Jonathan Frerichs is representing the World Council of Churches and Pax Christi International; Willem Staes of Pax Christi Flanders will also attend the ceremony in Oslo.

Prior to the conference, Pax Christi International issued a press release. The movement congratulated the Holy See in planning such a big event in order to enforce the commitment for a world free of nuclear weapons and calling all the churches worldwide to join these efforts. Disarmament, human rights and development should be the central pillar of international diplomacy.

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