By Akiko Kashiwagi and Chico Harlan
November 24, 2019 at 5:20 p.m. GMT+9 The Washington Post
NAGASAKI — Speaking at ground zero of an atomic bomb blast that razed this city during World War II, Pope Francis on Sunday called for a “world without nuclear weapons” and expressed concern that a “climate of distrust” was endangering international arms control efforts.
The somber address, delivered in the driving rain, represented Francis’s latest comprehensive argument against nuclear weapons, an issue he has put at the heart of his papacy.
“The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer,” Francis said, standing next to an enlarged black and white photograph from the Nagasaki bombing aftermath: a Japanese boy carrying his dead younger brother on his back.
“We need to ponder the catastrophic impact of their deployment,” the pope said.
After laying a wreath to the bombing’s victims, the pope said that the arms race creates a false sense of security, poisoning international relationships. He described nuclear weapons as wasteful and environmentally damaging.
“In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons, are an affront crying out to heaven,” Francis said.
Nagasaki has been fully rebuilt in the decades since the 1945 attack, in which 74,000 people died and the heat was strong enough to melt roof tiles. But it remains, along with Hiroshima, a lasting symbol of atomic destruction — something that Francis has warned about repeatedly during his papacy.
Francis in the past has called the weapons immoral and said that they shouldn’t be held even for deterrence, a stance that goes beyond that of his predecessors. The only other pope to visit Japan, John Paul II, said during the Cold War that deterrence could be deemed “morally acceptable,” so long as it was a step toward disarmament.
For Francis, the antinuclear message is the centerpiece of his three-day trip to Japan, the second half of a journey that began in Thailand. Later Sunday, the pope is scheduled to visit the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. And Monday, he will meet with survivors from the country’s 2011 triple disaster, in which a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami and meltdowns at a coastal nuclear plant.
His trip to Japan comes at a time of long standoffs over nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and little progress in international arms control deals. In August, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from a Cold War era nonproliferation pact, citing complaints that Moscow was not complying — a step that some analysts say could raise the possibility for an arms race. Meantime, most major countries, including the United States, have not signed a major United Nations treaty that envisions the eventual elimination of nuclear arms.
Japan has also declined to sign that treaty, to the consternation of many bomb victims, citing the protection it receives from the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima have called on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reconsider that stance. Japan’s bishops have also called for the abolition of nuclear arms.
“We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, including the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons,” Francis said.
For those who have advocated against nuclear weapons, the pope’s address was a welcome one.
“It was just what I was hoping to hear from him,” said Kazuya Okubo, the head of Nagasaki City Peace and Atomic Bomb museum, after the Pope gave the speech.
Harlan contributed from Rome.
Staff prepares for Pope Francis visit at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Nagasaki, Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)