NAGASAKI, Japan (AP) – Pope Francis demanded world leaders renounce atomic weapons and the Cold War-era doctrine of deterrence, saying Sunday the stockpiling of nuclear arms decreases security, wastes resources and threatens humanity with catastrophic destruction.
Francis made the appeal in Nagasaki at ground zero of the second of the two 1945 U.S. atomic bombings on Japan. After laying a wreath of flowers and praying in the rain at the foot of the memorial to the victims, Francis said the place stands as a stark reminder â€œof the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.â€
â€œConvinced as I am that a world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary, I ask political leaders not to forget that these weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security,â€ he said.
The mood was somber and silent, darkened by the downpour that drenched the terraced fields and rice paddies of Nagasaki and the hundreds of Japanese who came out in plastic raincoats to witness the second pope to pay his respects to victims of the bomb.
Francis visited Nagasaki – and later Hiroshima – at the start of his three-day trip to Japan aimed at emphasizing his call for a global ban on atomic weapons.
The Holy See was among the first countries to sign and ratify the new U.N. nuclear prohibition treaty, and Francis himself has gone further than any pope before him in saying not only the use, but the mere possession of atomic weapons is â€œto be condemned.â€
While Francis didnâ€™t repeat his 2017 condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons, he made a similar point. â€œOne of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability,â€ he said. â€œThe possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire; indeed they seem always to thwart it.â€
â€œPeace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,â€ he said. â€œThey can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation.â€
The first U.S. atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people. The second one dropped three days later on Nagasaki and killed another 74,000 by the end of the same year, according to data from the two cities. Many of the survivors have suffered the lasting impact of radiation and developed various forms of cancer.
Under the 1957 government law designed to support A-bomb survivors, or â€œhibakusha,â€ more than 370,000 people were recognized as eligible for various types of government support, including medical and welfare assistance, depending on how far they were from ground zero.
â€œIn 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,â€ Francis said.
He lamented the â€œclimate of distrustâ€ that is eating away at non-proliferation efforts and the arms control framework, a reference perhaps to the demise this year of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, a landmark Cold War-era arms control agreement. The U.S. formally withdrew from the treaty in August, after accusing Moscow of developing a Russian missile system prohibited under it.
Gerald Powers, director of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute, said Francisâ€™ 2017 condemnation during a Vatican disarmament conference marked a shift in the churchâ€™s position and â€œcreated quite a stirâ€ as a result, hailed by liberals and criticized by conservatives.
Powers noted that starting 1982, St. John Paul II had held that nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable in the interim â€œso long as it is used as a step toward mutual, verifiable nuclear disarmament.â€ The Holy See has noted in recent decade that the deterrence doctrine had become a permanent condition, while also seeing the dismantling of key arms control treaties.
â€œMy view is that the pope didnâ€™t condemn deterrence in principle but made a prudential moral judgment based on his reading of the nuclear signs of the times that the existing nuclear deterrents deserve condemnation because they are not a step toward disarmament,â€ he said.
The controversy over his 2017 remarks, however, might have instructed a slightly more nuanced message Sunday.
Japanese who came out to see Francis were grateful, regardless.
â€œI think he is a person who can deliver the message of peace without inhibition,â€ said Negoro Fumiyo, a 62-year-old Christian from Osaka.
Francisâ€™ visit to Nagasaki also gave him the chance to honor Christian missionaries and martyrs centuries after St. Francis Xavier first brought Christianity to the archipelago in 1549.
He laid a second wreath of flowers at the memorial of 26 Nagasaki Martyrs, who were crucified in 1597 at the start of the two-century wave of anti-Christian persecution by Japanese rulers.
The example of the missionaries and martyrs, and the Hidden Christians who kept their faith alive underground for generations, helped inspire a young priest named Jorge Mario Bergolio to be a missionary in Japan.
â€œMay we never forget their heroic sacrifice!â€ Francis said in remarks at the memorial.
Shingo Fukaura, from the Goto Islands off Nagasaki, where the Hidden Christians survived during the time of persecution, traveled to Nagasaki bearing gifts he hoped to give the pope at Mass.
â€œI also brought this branch of the camelia tree, which has been on my island since the time when we, Christians, were hiding our faith,â€ he said. â€œI am hoping he could give his blessing to this tree … and I could take it back to the islands to make it a symbol of peace.â€
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.