Mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean
I am Pax Christi, Nuclear Disarmament, Our Stories, Peace

Putting Hope to Work: The Pax Christi Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament

By Jonathan Frerichs, UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International

Pax Christi’s working group on nuclear disarmament is an embodiment of hope born with Pax Christi 75 years ago—the hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The working group was formed at a propitious time, in 2016.  Three seminal conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons had changed the dynamics of disarmament.  A growing majority of the world’s governments and a broad range of civil society organizations were united behind a singular conviction: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances”.  Pax Christi had the further good fortune that this new group was formed during the current papacy.  The Holy Father’s prophetic admonitions to free the world of nuclear weapons have encouraged and guided us from the start.

Here are some of the convictions and experiences, opportunities and challenges the group brings to a critical task.

Conviction.  In Japan’s symbolic cities last November, Pope Francis condemned not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession.  His words inspired concerned citizens around the world.    Some of our group had heard him make the same point before 400 peace workers, diplomats and church leaders in 2017 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which includes Pax Christi.  We also worked and prayed for his message to be heard in Japan.

At Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, the Holy Father called nuclear weapons “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home”.

At Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Hypo-Center Park, the pontiff said nuclear weapons breed “a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust”.  The pope challenged the theory of nuclear deterrence which has defined the nuclear era and continues to hold the entire planet at risk.

Before and after the papal visit, we took heart from actions of the Canadian and Japanese bishops’ conferences.  Both conferences urged their governments to sign and ratify the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  It will become international law when 12 more states ratify the agreement.

The bishops in Canada along with leaders of other churches urged the Canadian government “to work with allies and to engage would-be adversaries to formulate security arrangements that do not rely on the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan complemented the pope’s visit by calling on the leader of Japan, the only country to experience atomic warfare, to lead the international community in abolishing nuclear weapons.

These calls from the church have significant implications: Key nations must abandon the mutually assured destruction which has defined the 20th century and embrace the mutually assured security on which life in the 21st century already depends.

The working group’s members are familiar with such dilemmas.  They are mostly from countries which have, or rely on, nuclear weapons. But the language of “having” and “relying on” nuclear weapons can hide harsh realities.  For much of the past 75 years our countries have threatened humanity with indiscriminate destruction and practiced nuclear apartheid in international affairs.

In reality, today and every day, our leaders stand willing and able to destroy hundreds or even thousands of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. Our governments insist they would use nuclear weapons only in extremis, but this does not alter the fact that they would be committing mass murder in other countries and mass suicide in their own countries at the same time.  What is more, they stand ready to take such actions with only a moment’s notice. This caveat alone makes a mockery of the entire nuclear regime and the doctrine of deterrence by which it justifies itself.

The work of peace requires conviction.  These are but a few examples.  Pax Christi’s diverse membership knows from experience that every true work of peace is much more than opposition to something evil.  It is also positive engagement for something of great good.  The case of nuclear weapons leads us to what Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative calls a wider engagement with the suffering of our world, the forms of violence which spawn that suffering, and the love and determination to end it together.

Experience. The working group is blessed with the wide range of skills, vocations and commitments of its members.  One member, a national coordinator of Pax Christi, came from a career in teaching, speech therapy and clinic management.  She had always worked for justice and peace with the church.

Another member of the group practiced law for 35 years, specializing in civil litigation, before working with Pax Christi.

One member is a life-long advocate of nonviolent methods for dealing with conflicts. He became a foreign service officer during the Cold War and then helped establish the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  A toolkit he designed for Pax Christi provides faith communities with ways to address ethnic and racial conflict.

Another member was a mathematician in Germany’s Space Operation Center. His local Pax Christi section, which he joined 40 years ago, focuses on arms exports, Middle East peace and interreligious dialogue.  His priorities include removing the nuclear bombs based in Germany and opposing the growing threat of lethal autonomous weapons.

Members speak of milestones in their pursuits of peace. Theresa Alessandro of Pax Christi UK recalls: “As a teenager I read John Hersey’s book ‘Hiroshima’ and I have believed in getting rid of nuclear weapons ever since. Finding in Pax Christi others who feel the same has supported me and helped me channel my frustration over the continuing presence of nuclear weapons in the world.”

“A regional meeting in Jordan, followed by visits to members in Palestine and Lebanon, and to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, made a deep impression on me,” says Marie Dennis of Pax Christi USA and former co-president of Pax Christi International. She is connected to peacemakers around the world through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and has authored theological blogs against nuclear weapons.

“The work leading up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 was highly gratifying—sessions at the UN, lobbying individual Missions and meeting creative, intelligent, passionate people from around the world, capped off by the Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament,” says Mary Yelenick of Pax Christi USA. Her work has led to new friendships with young peace-builders around the world.

Opportunities.  Working groups are a benefit to their members when opportunities in one place lead to new approaches in other places.  When one member shares their plans and purposes, it may help another member to see new options too.  Collaboration along these lines may even shape a kind of power map showing which actions work where.

For example, the new nuclear ban treaty is being signed and ratified at a healthy pace.  Only 12 more ratifications are needed before it enters into force.  But that process takes time.  The nuclear powers and various allies are going to considerable lengths to denounce, dismiss and ignore the accord.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will make nuclear weapons illegal.  Meanwhile, close at hand, are ways to make nuclear weapons even more illegitimate than they already are.  Thanks to the work of PAX Netherlands (formerly IKV Pax Christi), detailed information is available to the international community about which banks and investment funds are financing nuclear weapons and which corporations are involved in making them.  BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund are among the 77 financial institutions which have cut or ended their investments in nuclear arms.  Pax Christi UK is also advocating and facilitating responsible investments with an inter-faith project on Banks, Pensions and Nuclear Weapons: Investing In Change.

The most striking feature on our power map of Europe are the US nuclear weapons permanently stationed in five European countries.  Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group has members in four of these countries—Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy.  Protests at the bases and lobbies of governments take place regularly.  A new project by Pax Christi Flanders would engage with parliamentarians opposed to nuclear weapons in each country and encourage inter-parliamentary initiatives for the weapons to be removed.

One of Pax Christi International’s other global priorities is to advocate with communities affected by mining, logging and other extractive industries in Latin America.  Pax Christi partners there and in Africa are aware that the economic and ecological injustices they face are also related to the nuclear threat.  The exploitation of strategic minerals is one example; the fact that virtually all nuclear weapons tests have taken place on the territory of indigenous peoples is another.  Pax Christi International is part of the worldwide effort by ICAN to have states sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty.  This was explained to partners in Colombia and DR Congo.   They contacted their foreign ministries at home and worked through Pax Christi’s United Nations office to bring the same request to their missions in New York.

Challenges. The road to a nuclear-weapon-free world is paved with challenges.  Here are some current examples:

  • It is fitting that the members of Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group are mostly from nuclear-weapon states and their allies. But since Pax Christi has 120 member organizations on five continents, it would also be fitting to welcome new members on the working group—especially from the global majority of countries which reject nuclear arms.
  • A new nuclear arms race has begun. Treaties which have limited nuclear arsenals for decades are expiring without being renewed. Nuclear-weapon states are modernising their arsenals.  The USA is spending more on its military than the next 10 military powers combined.  Such trends must be reversed.
  • Curiously, the nine states with the world’s most fearsome weapons have done a poor job of defending themselves against a microscopic coronavirus. New national priorities are needed— moving vast resources from threatening lives to saving lives.
  • The world is still at risk of nuclear annihilation 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pax Christi is still working for healing, reconciliation and peace.

The climax of Pax Christi’s anniversary year was to have been the movement’s World Assembly in Hiroshima, a much-anticipated opportunity for reflection, thanksgiving, fellowship and renewal.  There is reason to regret that the gathering was not possible but also to be grateful for the safety of foregoing it.

This 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is a warning to a world newly reminded of its fragile, common fate.  Nuclear weapons have no place where security is truly shared.  Pax Christi’s anniversary motto – “Let’s build peace together” – is an invitation to the practice of hope.

Photo: US Government via the ICAN Flickr Stream CC BY-NC 2.0.

Nonviolence, Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

A Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons

Marie Dennis (former co-president of Pax Christi International) and Ken Butigan (Pace Bene) reflect on a Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons:

The Universal Ethic of Nonviolence Rooted in the Life and Mission of Jesus

read more : click here

Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

Marshall Islands – a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change

by Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

A chosen people

In 1946, after a Sunday church service, the people of Enewetak Atoll (also known as Bikini Atoll) were told they are a chosen people, like the Israelites, who would deliver humanity from future wars as the US perfected the atomic bomb. Within weeks after the people being relocated, the first tests began. The so-called ‘promised land’ was a destroyed land.

Background

The Marshall Islands (RMI), with its 29 coral atolls, lie between Hawaii and Australia. In 1914, they were captured by Japan. When Japan was defeated by the US in 1944, the Japanese bases became U.S. military bases. Its remote location, sparse population, and proximity to other U.S. military bases, made it seem ideal for testing of U.S. nuclear weapons. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, 23 at Bikini Atoll, and 44 near Enewetak Atoll, but the fallout was not contained to these atolls. It became the most contaminated place on Earth and the people are still dealing with the fallout more than 70 years later.

Since 1945, the U.S. expanded nuclear research and development programs as they conducted 67 tests in the RMI between 1946 to 1958. Their combined explosive power if parcelled evenly over that 12-year period would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day. The ‘Castle Bravo’ test in 1954 was detonated with 1,000 times the force of the Hiroshima explosion.

Nuclear issues are forever.

Once subjected to the ravages of nuclear testing and its effects, the people now face oblivion due to climate change. Both are connected. Having endured burns to the bone, forced relocation, nightmarish birth defects, and short and long term cancers, the people have inherited a world unmade, remade and then conveniently forgotten by the USA. Washington has tried to close the book on a history of destruction and sadness. Over the years following the testing, the Marshall Islanders living on the fallout-contaminated islands ended up breathing, absorbing, drinking and eating considerable amounts of radioactivity.

Most of the people live in Majuro, and the ocean or lagoon can be seen from every part of town. The people depend on the ocean but rising sea-levels due to global warming now threaten their homes and lives. The effects of contamination by nuclear testing and climate change have embraced. Assurances by the USA that the well-being of the islanders would secured have not eventuated. Though an independent nuclear claims tribunal awarded the RMI $2.3 billion in health and property damages, there was no mechanism to force the USA to pay it. Washington does not acknowledge ongoing liability apart from the tens of millions of dollars it grants annually to environmental, food and health-care programs. The claim is that the US acquitted itself reasonably. In 2014, lawsuits against the United States and the eight other nuclear-armed nations, alleging noncompliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, were filed. The U.S. Justice Department labelled it a stunt. The suit was dismissed. For the international court, it was not an issue because the USA does not recognise its jurisdiction…

Click here to read the entire article in “Just Comment”.

Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

The best kept secret of the Catholic Church

by Tony Magliano

The Catholic Church has a very big secret. It is so powerful, challenging and relevant, that if every bishop, priest, religious and layperson was committed to communicating and implementing this secret, it would turn society upside-down and literally transform the world!

However, revealing its contents, and urging the full application of its message, would surely cause great controversy. The church’s leaders would come under attack from both conservatives and liberals. They would be characterized as naïve and acting outside the acceptable bounds of church leadership.

Therefore, most church leaders have opted to tread lightly, sadly guaranteeing that “Catholic social teaching” will remain our best-kept secret.

The best-kept secret is that the Catholic Church is deeply blessed with over 125 years of outstanding social justice and peace documents authored by popes, Vatican Council II, world synods of bishops and national conferences of bishops. Sadly, they attract more dust than readers.

Because Catholic social teaching’s foundational tenets of love, justice and peace boldly challenge governments, corporations and societies, as well as rich and powerful individuals to fairly share their wealth and power with the everyone – especially the poor, the vulnerable and mother earth – and because these teachings insist that war preparation and war-making must give way to peacemaking, Catholic social teaching is to put it mildly: a tough sell.

We need to put the effort into learning the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and selflessly, courageously put it into practice in our personal, political, economic and societal lives. It needs to be put above the status quo of ourselves, our nations, our corporations and our culture.

Like the Gospel, Catholic social teaching is countercultural. And, therefore, we must get out of our comfort zones and be countercultural as well!

But sadly, because Catholic social teaching is so challenging, the path of least resistance is most often used. For example, from time to time a passing reference is made to it in a homily, but such token efforts are too weak and too infrequent to make much difference for the unborn, poor and war-torn of our world. And our faith is all the weaker for it.

Catholic social teaching has at its core a set of principles designed to help guide us in applying the liberating message of the Gospel to the social, economic, and political problems facing modern humanity.

These principles are:

  • The protection of all human life and the promotion of human dignity
  • The call to participate in family and community life
  • The promotion of human rights and responsibilities
  • The preferential option for the poor and vulnerable
  • The safeguarding of workers’ dignity and rights
  • The building of global solidarity and the common good
  • The care for God’s creation
  • The universal destination of goods
  • The call to become peacemakers.

Among the most important documents of Catholic social teaching are the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” (see: https://bit.ly/WyDi4S), St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals “On Social Concerns” (see: https://bit.ly/1WJB2EX) and “The Gospel of Life” (see: https://bit.ly/1AHf2fZ), and Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home (see: https://bit.ly/1Gi1BTu).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services offer an excellent video introductory overview of Catholic social teaching (see: https://www.crs.org/resource-center/CST-101).

Catholic social teaching could become a tremendously effective tool for building a just and peaceful world, if we would regularly read it, pray with it, teach it, preach it, and live it!

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

Nuclear Disarmament, UN Report

Our house is on fire and we are called to respond

by Tim Wallis
Nucleanban.us

Delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings taking place last month at the UN in New York were given a unique opportunity to hear some voices rarely heard inside those hallowed walls. The Pax Christi International side event on May 9th, 2019 provided some inspiring and profound reflections on our moral obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons, as well as living proof that there are many courageous people out there determined to make this happen.

Only one of the panelists had ever spoken at the UN before: William Hartung, Director of the Arms Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is a highly-respected authority on nuclear weapons issues and author of several books on this subject. He helped clarify some of the economics of the nuclear weapons industry, and spoke encouragingly about the way divestment campaigns can make a difference. He talked about the vast amount of resources and skills currently going into nuclear weapons and how these could refocused to create so many more jobs that actually address the real problems we face as a society.

Other speakers included Martha Hennessey, who is currently awaiting trial with six others for entering the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia in prayerful witness to call out the morality and illegality of nuclear weapons. Martha is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and she faces up to 25 years in prison for her action.

Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher teaches theology at Fordham University and traveled to Georgia to lend expert testimony at the pre-trial hearings for the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7). She clearly speaks to the core of Catholic social teaching being aligned with our moral duty to oppose the immorality of nuclear weapons. She organized a recent event for her University around what she identifies as “the prophetic call” of the KBP7 to awaken our society. She recently published the acclaimed book, The Sin of White Supremacy.

Father Timothy Graff is a Roman Catholic priest who, among other duties, works with 212 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, to develop and support local social justice programs. He works closely with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, and a close ally of Pope Francis. Cardinal Tobin has been nudging, as best he can, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference towards making the immorality of nuclear weapons, and the Pope’s message about them, more a part of the conversation among American Catholics…

Click here to read the entire article.

Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

NATO military alliance incompatible with Gospel nonviolence

by Tony Magliano

As foreign ministers of the 29 member nations of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), gathered in Washington, D.C. on April 3-4 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of this largest military alliance in the world, nonviolent peace activists across the U.S. and from around the world also gathered in Washington to proclaim: “No to NATO – Yes to Peace.”

For six days anti-war proponents participated in  justice and peace workshops, rallies, an anti-NATO conference, an end to war concert and a disarmament counter summit (see: https://worldbeyondwar.org/notonato/).

The kickoff event was a 20 block peace march starting at Lafayette Square (across the street from the White House). Along with members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Washington, D.C. community, I helped carry a banner saying “No to NATO, No to Nukes” (see video: https://bit.ly/2WLIeCi).

But what’s so wrong about NATO? A lot!

According to David Swanson, director of World Beyond War – a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace (see:       https://worldbeyondwar.org/) – NATO members place more value on Russia as an enemy. Anonymous U.S. military officials describe the current cold war as driven by massive profits from weapons sales (see: http://davidswanson.org/united-states-wants-war-with-russia/). NATO now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing on the globe.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, NATO promised Russia that it would absolutely not expand eastward. Breaking its promise, NATO added the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungry, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia.

While it is important to note that Russia is also immorally making massive profits from arms sales and is also very militarized, nonetheless, if we are honest, it is understandable that Russia sees NATO – now on its very border – as a dangerous threat.

And with both the U.S. and Russia having hundreds of nuclear weapons aimed at each other, and on hair-trigger/launch on warning alert, we are playing an extremely dangerous game of Russian roulette.

To counter all this madness, level-headed, kind-hearted citizens should urge government leaders to appropriate much less money for NATO related operations with the pressing goal of completely dissolving the military alliance – just as the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. And to transfer these massive military dollars toward insuring that all human beings receive their basic God-given rights of life, nutritious food, clean water, improved sanitation, comprehensive health care, quality education, decent housing and a livable wage earned in a safe working environment.

Not only would this conversion provide all people with the necessary means to live, and to live with dignity, but unlike military violence which destroys, insuring universal human rights would also foster lasting world peace.

And most importantly as Christians, we must not to be swayed by the violent ways of the world, but rather by the ways that build up the Kingdom of God – love, justice and peace.

Let’s not forget the stern warning of the nonviolent Jesus: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

During his 1979 visit to the Irish people who were suffering from the violence of the “Troubles,” St. Pope John Paul II prophetically declared “that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.