At the United Nations Annual Prayer Service, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., offered a reflection, “A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament.”
The multi-language evening service Sept. 12 at Holy Family Church on East 47th Street near the UN, preceded the opening of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. It was hosted by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, which offered Vespers of the Most Holy Name of Mary. The officiant was Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations.
“For many of us, myself included, these last five decades or so have put us all into a false sense of security, relative to the clear and present danger posed by nuclear weapons,” said Archbishop Wester during his reflection. “This all changed for me five years ago as I explained in my (pastoral) letter.”
Archbishop Wester based his talk on his January 2022 pastoral letter titled, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament.”
“In September 2017, I traveled to Japan and visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said. “It was a somber, sobering experience as I realized that on Aug. 6, 1945, humanity crossed the line into the darkness of the nuclear age. We can now kill billions of people instantly and even destroy the world in a flash. The reality of this evil becomes very real as you walk through Hiroshima and Nagasaki today.”
The archbishop noted, “In one exhibit, I read about schoolchildren in Hiroshima who, on that fateful morning in August 1945, ran to the windows attracted by a bright light. Little did they know that they were running to their deaths, either instantaneously incinerated or dying later in agonizing pain.
“Normally, light brings new life and clearer vision. Not that day. Sadly, the light generated by the first nuclear explosion used in war brought only destruction and death.”
He touched on related historical topics and events, such as the Manhattan Project, and how the Cuban missile crisis caused him great worry when he was a schoolboy.
Archbishop Wester added, “Historically, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has been part of a peace initiative, especially given (the locale’s) role in the creation and manufacture of nuclear weapons. I believe that it is time to rejuvenate that peace work…If we care about humanity, if we care about our planet, if we care about the God of peace and human conscience, then we must start a public conversation on these urgent questions and find a new path toward nuclear disarmament…I invite us to step into the Light of Christ and walk together toward a new future of peace, a new promised land of peace.”
He noted that Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and that Pope Francis “has called the mere possession of nuclear weapons immoral.” The archbishop urged all to join him and others in this mission of peace “before it is too late.”
Father Gerald E. Murray, pastor of Holy Family parish, gave welcoming remarks, spoke of the significance of the evening’s theme, and quoted Pope Francis as saying that “the world is shaken by the risk of nuclear war.”
Father Murray added that he hopes all persons working at the United Nations “this coming year, (do so) with a genuine spirit and desire to seek peace and achieve peace for our troubled world.”
Casaba Kórösi, president-elect of the United Nations General Assembly for the 77th session, spoke of the importance of our shared humanity, living in harmony and honoring each member state, noting, “When we rise, we rise together; when any society, any member state in our organization succeeds, it represents a success for all of us.”
In a pre-recorded video message, António Guterres, UN secretary-general, said in part, “I am pleased to greet the annual prayer service — a cherished moment of quiet reflection just before the hectic frenzy of the General Assembly. This session will test us like few others before. The crises we face are complex and many, the pressures immense, the perils grave…Thank you for inspiring the best in each of us to build a better world for all of us.”
Anna Theresa Whitehead, 22, was among the service attendees. She told Catholic New York afterward, “Archbishop Wester’s call for nuclear disarmament was particularly timely and significant given the failure of the recent UN conference reviewing the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) to reach consensus and produce an outcome document.”
Ms. Whitehead is an intern with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. She is English and graduated from the University of Cambridge this year. “I’m from the Diocese of Westminster in London,” she said. “I was very involved with the Catholic Chaplaincy there (Cambridge), called Fisher House.”