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Archive for November, 2017

Recently I had the privilege of attending the Vatican-sponsored symposium, “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament.” It was a transformative and inspiring experience that included an audience with Pope Francis. The Vatican invited Notre Dame’s Office of the President and Kroc Institute to collaborate in the event, and five faculty members and a dozen current and recent students made the trip to Rome. Among the more than 300 participants were Nobel laureates, ambassadors and governmental representatives, Church leaders, civil society leaders and nuclear experts from dozens of countries.

The highlight of the event was the audience with the Holy Father, which took place in the Vatican’s magnificent Clementine Palace. The Pope delivered an important address that broke new ground in strengthening the Church’s commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Noting the grave risk these weapons pose to humankind, the pontiff declared “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” This was the first time a pope rejected the very possession of nuclear weapons.

After the address, all of us at the conference were invited to greet the Pope. As I stood in line inching closer to the Holy Father my knees were shaking. I kept thinking of my long departed mom, who was so devout in the faith, and how proud she would be of her sometimes wayward son finding his way to the Vatican. I took deep breaths to compose myself and tried to focus on the moment as I stood now in front of the Holy Father. He reached out and smiled warmly, and I stepped forth and clasped his hand. I can’t remember what I said to him. Time seemed to stand still and for a moment I had no idea where I was. Then I turned and walked slowly back to my seat, floating on air, overwhelmed with a deep feeling of gratitude and joy, aglow with the spirit of this most blessed of popes. I noticed similar deep smiles of wonderment on the faces of many conference participants as they returned to their seats.

The symposium was historic not only in expressing the Church’s condemnation of nuclear weapons but in articulating the concept of “integral disarmament,” which can be understood as a companion to the Church’s doctrine of integral human development. Denuclearization is an imperative not only for humanitarian reasons to save innocent lives, but to redirect public resources toward programs that address the needs of the poor and enhance human flourishing. As with integral human development, the goal of integral disarmament is to protect life in all its dimensions and to support inclusive approaches to economic and social opportunity. Integral disarmament also encompasses Pope Francis’s concern for protecting the environment and respecting God’s creation, as expressed in Laudato si’. All of this is woven into a capacious conception of disarmament that seeks not only to prevent nuclear holocaust but refocus public priorities toward serving human and ecological needs.

Attending the historic symposium and greeting the pope was a privilege, but with that honor comes the responsibility to heed the pontiff’s words and redouble our efforts for peace and integral disarmament.

With Pope Francis

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Recently more than a hundred veterans of the Vietnam antiwar movement and peace scholars and activists gathered in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October 1967 March on the Pentagon, arguably one of the most significant and iconic demonstrations of the peace movement, also the subject of Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Armies of the Night.

The commemorative event included a vigil at the Pentagon near the site of the original protest, a conference with analyses of the antiwar movement and recollections from the March by those who participated, and a walk to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Washington Mall.

At the Memorial, aka “the Wall,” we gathered to lay a wreath in honor of those who suffered from the war. We noted that if the Memorial were extended to include the names of the millions of victims of the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, it would stretch more than two miles to beyond the Capitol building and across the Potomac past the Pentagon.

I was asked to offer some words on behalf of the soldiers memorialized at the Wall and those who served during the war. My comments are below:

 

We approach the Wall with a deep sense of reverence.

This is sacred ground for many of us, a hallowed place in which we remember and pay respects to the more than 58,000 American soldiers who lost their lives, to the hundreds of thousands who suffered severe injuries, to the millions who experienced post-traumatic stress and continue to suffer to this day, and to their families, friends, and colleagues who suffered with them.

This is a place of sadness and mourning, which is always the case when we remember the losses of war, but in this case, the sadness and mourning are particularly poignant and tragic, for a war that we know was unjust and unwinnable. A war of imperial ambition. A war that was profoundly immoral and a violation of international law. A war that was unnecessary and in vain.

And so this must also be a place of recommitment and rededication to working for peace, to struggling for justice and human rights to prevent war. To opposing and stopping the unnecessary and futile wars our country is pursuing today in Afghanistan and half a dozen other countries.

We hereby devote ourselves in the years we have remaining to carry on the struggle for justice and peace, to pass along our ideals to the children and grandchildren and young people everywhere who come after us, to carry on the movement against war.

And if we are successful, if we can turn America away from militarism and wars of intervention, if we can build a culture and politics of peace, then perhaps those we remember here today will not have died in vain, and we can create a future with no more victims of unjust war.

 

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Rick Hind, a veteran of the Vietnam antiwar movement and longtime legislative director of Greenpeace, lays a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on behalf of the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, October 21, 2017.

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