NAGASAKI, Japan (OSV News) – On the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle and Archbishop John C. Wester of Sante Fe, New Mexico, joined three Japanese bishops in a formal pledge to concretely work toward "a world without nuclear weapons."
"In the spirit and teaching of Pope Francis, we recognize that even the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral," they said in the Aug. 9 partnership declaration, signed by the two U.S. prelates and Archbishop Peter Michiaki Nakamura of Nagasaki; Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima, Japan; and retired Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki.
The five bishops, from areas "impacted by nuclear weapons," urged "concrete progress" on this effort by August 2025, the 80th anniversary of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.
They urged world leaders to take specific steps toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, outlined actions they will take in their own archdioceses and diocese, and said they will work with other dioceses and faith traditions to create an interfaith partnership.
"The road to peace is difficult – we cannot travel it alone," they said.
The announcement of their initiative came at the conclusion of an Aug. 1-9 Pilgrimage of Peace to Japan by Archbishops Etienne and Wester. During the pilgrimage, the archbishops spoke about the need to abolish nuclear weapons, participated in memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and visited historic and Catholic sites.
During World War II, the U.S. detonated nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6, 1945, and Aug. 9, 1945, respectively. Those bombings marked the first – and to date, only – use of atomic weapons in war. Tens of thousands of people were killed in each of the initial explosions, and still more died from radiation poisoning in the following years.
Both Archbishops Etienne and Wester have often noted their own archdioceses' connection to nuclear weapons. For the Seattle Archdiocese, it is the fact that in western Washington, where it is located, the United States has its major nuclear arsenal. And the Santa Fe Archdiocese is located in a state considered the birthplace of the nuclear bomb. During the pilgrimage, in an Aug. 5 address on nuclear disarmament, Archbishop Wester noted with sadness that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan "were developed and built within my archdiocese."
In Nagasaki, as they did at the G7 meeting in Hiroshima in May, the U.S. and Japanese bishops in their declaration called on world leaders to take these steps toward abolition of nuclear weapons:
– Acknowledge the tremendous, long-lasting human suffering that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings inflicted upon hibakusha (survivors).
– Acknowledge the tremendous, long-lasting human suffering and environmental impacts caused by uranium mining and nuclear weapons research, production and testing around the world.
– Reiterate that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, as well as emphasize that, as the G20 agreed to in November 2022, the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons are "inadmissible."
– Announce and commit to concrete steps to prevent a new arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use and advance nuclear disarmament.
The bishops said their pledge to work toward abolition of nuclear weapons is made "in the spirit of 'remembering, walking together, and protecting,' as Pope Francis said in his message in Hiroshima on November 24, 2019."
"We, the bishops of four arch/dioceses in areas that have experienced the devastation caused by nuclear weapons, call on our priests, religious and lay people to participate actively in this partnership to 'remember, walk together and protect' so that we may create a legacy of peace for current and future generations," they stated in the declaration.
They also outlined concrete steps they will undertake in their archdioceses/diocese:
– Remember: Listen to and dialogue with hibakusha (bombing survivors), uranium miners, peace activists, nuclear engineers, military personnel, diplomats and others on a regular basis. Create opportunities to learn about the threat of nuclear weapons and the devastation caused by nuclear weapons.
– Walk together: Ask for God's help as individuals and as community with specific prayers (see sidebar below). Offer Mass at least once a year with a special intention for a world without nuclear weapons. Wherever possible, call for a special collection to support nuclear victims and restore the environment destroyed by nuclear weapons.
– Protect: Promote the signing and ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Urge world leaders to redirect money spent on the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons toward helping vulnerable populations and addressing environmental issues.
"We conclude," the declaration said, "by calling upon Christ, the Prince of Peace, our partner and companion on the journey, to bless our partnership, and we ask for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace."
Northwest Catholic is the magazine and website of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
NOTES: The full text of the joint declaration by the U.S. and Japanese bishops can be found at: https://archseattle.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Partnership-Declaration-Seattle-FINAL-8.9.23-for-web.pdf.
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle and Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, also blogged about the Pilgrimage of Peace delegation in Japan and offered other reflections. Their blogs can be found, respectively, at https://www.archbishopetienne.com and https://express.adobe.com/page/OQYvRXbV4lLr4.
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SIDEBAR: Here are two prayers for an end to war and nuclear weapons the U.S. and Japanese bishops recommend in their joint declaration:
Prayer for World Peace (Adapted from St. John Paul II's prayer)
O great and merciful God, Lord of peace and life,
You have a plan for peace, not suffering.
You condemn war and violence.
You are for those who are near and those who are far away.
You will bring peace to those near and far, and to all races and nations.
You sent Jesus to bring peace to those near and far, to make all races and nations one family.
War threatens every creature in the created world,
We do not want a cycle of violence and death that threatens all creatures of creation.
Hear, O God, the heartfelt cry of all people.
We ask you to end the wars and conflicts that are taking place on this earth as soon as possible.
We ask that those who hold the keys to humanity's destiny not use the logic of revenge and retribution.
Help ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again on this earth.
Send the Holy Spirit so that we may find new ways to solve problems through dialogue, patience, and courage.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace
O Mary, Mother of Christ, Queen of Peace,
We ask for your help in bringing about the peace that Christ, our Redeemer, has brought to this earth.
May Christ remove from the hearts of all people everything that threatens peace.
May Christ transform us into witnesses of truth, justice, and love.
May Christ shine his light into the hearts of the political leaders of the nations so that they may bring about not only the welfare of people, but also peace without fear of nuclear annihilation, the precious gift of peace that protects all life.
We pray to Christ, Prince of Peace, through your intercession, Mary, Our Mother.