Archbishop John Wester amplified the call for nuclear disarmament in a sermon delivered on Nuclear Ban Week at Our Savior Church, New York City. The following article was published in the January-February 2024 issue of NewsNotes.
On November 29, 2023, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, spoke with urgency for the cause of nuclear disarmament in his sermon at the Mass for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, sponsored by the Dorothy Day Guild, at Our Savior Church in New York City.
The timing was doubly significant: November 29 is the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death and will be her feast day should she become canonized. It was also the start of Nuclear Ban Week, when the State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) met for the second time since the treating went into force in 2021. Archbishop Wester’s sermon was delivered only a few blocks away from United Nations while those meetings were in progress.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) bans the use, possession, testing, and transfer of nuclear weapons under international law. Over sixty state parties have joined the treaty, none of which possess nuclear weapons, and have committed to the 50-point Vienna Action Plan, to deepen understanding of and strengthen commitments to disarmament.
Archbishop Wester cited Pope Francis’s declaration that even the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral, highlighting the catastrophic risks associated with their use and the increasing likelihood of inadvertent use due to complex control systems. The Archbishop’s journey to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sites of atomic bomb devastation, underlines the church’s commitment to confronting this issue. Notably, the Vatican was the first state to sign and ratify the TPNW, setting a moral benchmark for others.
Reflecting on the legacy of Dorothy Day, who opposed nuclear weapons as a crime against God and humanity, Archbishop Wester connected this historical stance to the present. He expressed concern over the modernized digital and AI systems governing nuclear arsenals, which could precipitate a catastrophic decision to use these weapons. He pointed to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where luck played a significant role in averting disaster, underscoring that luck is not a strategy.
Archbishop Wester recalled the United Nations’ first resolution in 1946, which aimed to address the nuclear threat. Despite early efforts like Bernard Baruch’s proposal for nuclear disarmament, geopolitical tensions, notably with the Soviet Union, hindered progress. The failure of significant disarmament initiatives in the 1980s, despite efforts by leaders like Reagan and Gorbachev, demonstrates the complexity of this global issue.
The United States is currently engaged in a $2 trillion modernization program of its nuclear arsenal, which Archbishop Wester views as a step toward permanent nuclear armament, capable of annihilating human civilization. He also touched upon Dorothy Day’s vision of Distributism, advocating for a more equitable distribution of wealth, which is intrinsically linked to the pursuit of peace and disarmament.
The TPNW stands as a beacon of hope in this context. With 122 countries initially voting in favor, and increasing numbers signing and ratifying it, the treaty symbolizes a global aspiration for complete nuclear disarmament. The Archbishop views this as a move away from ‘nuclear apartheid’ to a more equitable and safe world.
Archbishop Wester proposed a multifaceted approach: Engaging various faiths in a united stand against nuclear weapons, emphasizing nuclear disarmament as a pre-eminent pro-life issue in the Catholic Church, and treating global nuclear disarmament as an urgent challenge. He underscored the need for significant progress by 2025, marking the 80th anniversary of the atomic bombings.
The Archbishop’s sermon, drawing parallels between the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den and the modern threat of nuclear annihilation, serves as a stark reminder of the perilous path humanity treads with nuclear weapons. His call to action is clear: trust in a higher moral compass and strive collectively for a world free of the nuclear threat.
Faith in action
Watch the full sermon at https://mogc.info/ArchbishopWester-11-29-23
Sign up for a webinar, “The Growing Danger of Nuclear War: An Urgent Conversation” featuring Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, Dr. Ira Helfand of Back from the Brink Campaign, and Marie Dennis of Pax Christi International. Jan. 27, 2pm-4pm ET. Register at https://paxchristima.org/
Still image of Archbishop Wester at the lectern for the Homily at Our Savior, Manhattan, New York on November 29, 2023 by Anthony Donovan via YouTube.