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Pope Francis says in Nagasaki speech money used for nuclear weapons better spent on eradicating poverty

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

In a long-awaited speech in Nagasaki, Pope Francis on Sunday strongly criticized the concept of nuclear deterrence and warned of arms races while calling on world leaders to instead use money and resources to cope with environmental issues and poverty that affect millions of people worldwide who are “living in inhumane conditions.”

“Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,” the pope told scores of people who had gathered to hear him speak amid a light rain at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park, ground zero of the second of the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan by the United States in 1945.

“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 destruction weapons, are an affront crying out to heaven,” the pope said.

The faithful wait for Pope Francis amid a light rain at the Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium in the city Sunday. | AP
The faithful wait for Pope Francis amid a light rain at the Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium in the city Sunday. | AP

Francis, an 82-year-old Argentine and the first non-European pope in 1,600 years, spoke in Spanish to about 1,000 raincoat-wearing attendees, many of whom followed the speech on a monitor that showed a Japanese translation of the prepared speech.

Before he delivered his speech, Shigemi Fukahori, 88, and Sakue Shimohira, 84, both hibakusha affected by the 1945 bombing of the city, presented a wreath to Francis, who placed the flowers in front of a cenotaph at the site. The pontiff then observed a moment of silence to pray for the victims of the nuclear attack.

Later in the day, he visited Hiroshima, delivering another emotional speech denouncing the use of nuclear weapons and mourning for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of city, which is believed to have killed some 140,000 locals by the end of the same year. The city’s population was estimated at 350,000 at the time.

“Here, in an incandescent burst of lightning and fire, so many men and women, so many dreams and hopes, disappeared, leaving behind only shadows and silence,” the pope said during a gathering at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

The pope’s anti-nuclear speech came amid rising concerns over a new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia, as President Donald Trump officially announced in February the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which was immediately followed by a similar move by Moscow.

The INF, which was originally concluded by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1987 to slow the nuclear arms race, collapsedin August.

North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons development program is also a source of serious concern for Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will have a brief meeting with the pope in Tokyo on Monday and is expected to discuss Pyongyang-related issues with him there.

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki, on Sunday.
Pope Francis delivers his speech at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki, on Sunday.

Japan, the only nation to have ever been attacked with atomic bombs, has called for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons but still relies on the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S.

The pontiff kicked off his four-day visit to the nation on Saturday, arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport after visiting Thailand. He is the first pope to visit Japan in 38 years, following John Paul II in 1981.

His Asian tour is seen as part of the Catholic Church’s recent efforts to shift its focus more to Asia, Africa and South America, where the Catholic population is now rapidly growing in sharp contrast to Europe.In addition to Nagasaki being one site of only two such nuclear attacks,the city is also a special place for many Catholics, as the area is widely known for its kakure kirishitan, or “hidden Christians,” the descendants of adherents who were persecuted in the early 16th and 17th centuries.

These people hid their faith, secretly continuing their religious practices for more than 250 years. They finally revealed themselves to a French missionary in Nagasaki in 1865 after Japan ended its national seclusion policy that had been in place for more than 210 years.

Pope Francis offers a prayer after laying a wreath at Nagasaki Peace Park on Sunday. | AP
Pope Francis offers a prayer after laying a wreath at Nagasaki Peace Park on Sunday. | AP

“This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another,” The pope said during his speech.”Here in this city, which witnessed the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear attack, our attempts to speak out against the arms race will never be enough,” Francis said.

The nuclear detonation in Nagasaki unleashed a massive blast of heat and radiation that killed more than 74,000 by December the same year, and leveled 18,409 buildings, or about 36 percent of the city’s structures.

“I ask political leaders not to forget that these weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security. We need to ponder the catastrophic impact of their deployment, especially from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint, and reject heightening a climate of fear, mistrust and hostility fomented by nuclear doctrines,” Francis said.

The Catholic leader is famously known for his interest over the tragic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In January 2018, he showed to reporters a black-and-white photo of a boy in Nagasaki waiting in line to have his dead little brother, who was strapped to his back, cremated.

Pope Francis speaks during his visit to the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki on Sunday. | VATICAN MEDIA / VIA REUTERS
Pope Francis speaks during his visit to the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki on Sunday. | VATICAN MEDIA / VIA REUTERS

“I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw this. So, I thought of simply writing on the back (of the photo) … ‘Fruit of war,'” he was quoted as saying in an official handbook for the media prepared by the Roman Catholic Church.

Copies of the photo, taken by U.S. Marine Corps photographer Joe O’Donnell in 1945, were later distributed to Catholic churches across Japan.

An enlarged copy was on show on Sunday near to the podium in the Nagasaki park while Francis delivered his speech.

Later Sunday, Francis visited a monument to 26 martyrs who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597 on the orders of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Pope Francis kisses a baby as he arrives to celebrate a Holy Mass at the Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium in the city of Nagasaki on Sunday. He made a speech near the Nagasaki Peace Park earlier in the day. | AFP-JIJI
Pope Francis kisses a baby as he arrives to celebrate a Holy Mass at the Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium in the city of Nagasaki on Sunday. He made a speech near the Nagasaki Peace Park earlier in the day. | AFP-JIJI

During a Mass at the 25,000-seat Nagasaki Prefectural Baseball Stadium, tens of thousands of Catholic believers welcomed the pope, who entered the venue riding in his famous open-roofed vehicle, waving to the audience.

According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, the 440,000 or so registered Catholics here accounted for only 0.345 percent of Japan’s population last year.

Despite such a small number nationwide, Catholics account for 4.36 percent of Nagasaki Prefecture’s 1.3 million population, much higher than the country’s average.

On Monday, he was scheduled to pay a courtesy visit on Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and hold another Mass at the Tokyo Dome.


The following is a list of key events related to Pope Francis’ four-day tour of Japan through Tuesday.

  • February 1981: Pope John Paul II becomes the first pontiff to travel to Japan, visiting Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo.
  • March 2013: Francis elected as pontiff.
  • June 2014: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asks the pope to visit Japan during talks in Vatican City.
  • November 2014: The pope makes a remark that mankind “has learned nothing” from the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • May 2017: Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki asks the pope to visit Hiroshima.
  • November 2017: The pope criticizes the possession of nuclear weapons for the first time when meeting with atomic-bomb survivors in Vatican City. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui asks the pope to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • January 2018: The pope shows reporters a 1945 picture of a boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
  • May 2018: Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue asks the pope to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
  • June 2018: Manyo Maeda, a native of Nagasaki Prefecture, becomes the sixth Japanese cardinal.
  • Dec. 17, 2018: The pope expresses his desire to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki around the end of 2019 when meeting with Maeda.
  • Jan. 23, 2019: The pope announces his plan to visit Japan in November.
  • Sept. 13, 2019: The Vatican officially announces the papal visit to Japan.
  • Nov. 20, 2019: The pope sets off on a tour of Thailand and Japan.
  • Nov. 23, 2019: The pope arrives in Tokyo for the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years.
  • Nov. 24, 2019: The pope visits Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
  • Nov. 25, 2019: The pope to meet separately in Tokyo with Emperor Naruhito, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that devastated northeastern Japan.