In Japan, Pope Francis denounces nuclear weapons and questions nuclear power

By Matt Field | November 26, 2019

Pope Francis waves to a crowd. Pope Francis visited Japan this past week. The pope (pictured here at an unrelated event in Panama) spoke to atomic bomb survivors as well as people who had experienced the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in northern Japan. Credit: IAEA Imagebank (cropped). (Creative Commons)

Pope Francis moved past the position of his predecessors and denounced any use of nuclear weapons as a “crime against the dignity of human beings” during a visit to Japan this past week. Francis travelled to the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequently met with victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

In Tokyo, the pope met with survivors of the so-called triple-disaster, the earthquake and tsunami that killed 18,000 people in 2011 and led to the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima Daichi. After hearing from three survivors, Francis, a Vatican press release said, talked about the people “who lived in the affected areas” and who “now feel forgotten by others,” and “must face ongoing problems: contaminated land and forests and the long-term effects of radiation.”

“In addition to scientific or medical concerns, there is also the immense challenge of restoring the fabric of society. Until social bonds in local communities are re-established, and people can once more enjoy safe and stable lives, the Fukushima accident will not be fully resolved,” Francis said.

“In turn, this involves, as my brother bishops in Japan have emphasized, concern about the continuing use of nuclear power; for this reason, they have called for the abolition of nuclear power plants.”

The last papal visit to Japan was John Paul II’s 38 years ago. Francis went further than his predecessors on the nuclear weapons issue; they wanted to end stockpiling of nuclear weapons, a New York Times article on Francis’s visit notes. On the nuclear power issue, the newspaper writes that Francis “edged close” to denouncing the energy source altogether.

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In addition to being the site of the second atomic bombing, Nagasaki is the cultural hub of Japan’s small Catholic population. Indeed, on Aug. 9, 1945, a US B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb in the vicinity of the Urakami Cathedral. After visiting a park at the hypocenter of the bombing, Francis spoke to about 35,000 people in a baseball stadium next to a sculpture of the Virgin Mary that was found in the ruins of the Urakami church. Later he met with Hiroshima bomb survivors in that city.

The full transcript of the pope’s speech at the Nagasaki Peace Park can be found here.

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