I READ in the UK magazine The Tablet that Pope Francis joins fight for a nuclear-free world. Pope Francis has taken a step further than his predecessors in urging the Church to take a leading role in opposing all nuclear weapons. Speaking on Friday last week to participants in an International Symposium, “Prospects for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament”, organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, he said that nuclear weapons create a “false sense of security” and serve a “mentality of fear” that affects the entire human race.

Condemning the escalation of the arms race and the high price of modernizing and developing weaponry, he said the result was that the “real priorities”, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects and the development of human rights, were relegated to second place.

“Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices,” he added.

Francis’ outright condemnation of nuclear weapons marks an evolution in the Catholic Church’s position. While his predecessors have said that nuclear arms should never be used, Pope St. John Paul II told the United Nations in 1982 that the use of these weapons as a deterrence was “morally acceptable” on the path to disarmament. Pope Benedict XVI, in his first message for World Peace Day in 2006, described the possession of nuclear weapons as a defensive strategy as “not only baneful but also completely fallacious”.

“In a nuclear war, there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all – whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire the – agree to change their course, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament,” Benedict wrote.

Francis is now keen for the Church to take a more active role internationally in trying to rid the world of nuclear arms. “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired an ethics of solidarity,” he said.

Last week’s conference followed the approval of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, which 122 countries, including the Holy See, signed in New York on 7 July 2017. This said that nuclear weapons are not only immoral but should be regarded as an illegal means of warfare.

In Rome for the conference last week were 11 Nobel Peace Laureates, UN and NATO representatives, diplomats from Russia, the United States, South Korea and Iran, as well as experts on armaments and weapons and the heads of Major foundations involved in the debate.

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