by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
It is providential that one of our first – and perhaps the most important – reflections on the cry of creation called for by Pope Francis comes on this week when we mark 75 years since that most dreadful of all events: the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States of America.
Appropriately and thankfully, these two dates are receiving enormous attention all over the world. Eloquent and effective words and actions are calling attention to the horror our country inflicted on Japan, and the world, on August 6th and again on August 9th, 1945. There is also clearly a general agreement that after those fateful days, the world has never been the same. We know this monstrous crime against humanity hangs over us and the possibility of another attack is absolutely unthinkable.
I have felt almost at a loss about trying to add something useful to the global outpouring of commentary during this “Hiroshima/Nagasaki Week”. However, these events 75 years ago, and the subsequent threats of similar catastrophes, produce a desperate cry from creation. In these lines, I hope to spell that out as a crucial part of Pope Francis’s Seven Year Laudato Si’ Plan.
The principle point to make in this regard is something which I am not sure has received sufficient attention over the past three-quarters of a century, or even now as we mark that anniversary. It is the fact that the very existence of planet Earth is being threatened by growing nuclear arsenals and their ever more potent power.
In a short phrase in the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1983 Peace Pastoral, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, we find this fearful statement: “There exists the capacity to do something no other age could imagine: we can threaten the entire planet” (No. 123).
While speaking on his pilgrimage to Japan last year, Pope Francis said, “Today the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the human person, the civilization we have slowly constructed, and even the created order itself.”
If these are not cries of creation, what are?
And yet, the countries which possess these diabolical nuclear weapons, particularly the United States, seem determined not only to keep them but to upgrade their potential. One estimate of the current power of a U.S. nuclear bomb puts it at eighty times that of the atomic bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an instant. Incredibly, the United States is well into the process of a thirty-year program to upgrade our nuclear capabilities. The estimated cost of this program is $2.2 trillion.
Pope Francis has made the crucial point in these times that the very possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. This call for humanity to hear the cry of creation strikes one as a despairing and almost unheard voice in the desert of discussions and policies, which take for granted the need to protect ourselves by what is senselessly called “mutually assured destruction” (aptly called MAD in shorthand).
If there is any ray of hope in this dire scenario, it might be paradoxically in the global experience of a deadly virus from which no human being is exempt and which no military weaponry can destroy. Coronavirus just might turn humanity to an entirely new way of living on Earth. Could the virus demonstrate the madness of humans killing each other in large and small wars when all of us are being equally attacked? Could we act universally on the truth that science and cooperation with science, not guns, is the only hope against the horrors of Coronavirus? And in light of these reflections, could we face up to the fact that our world is headed inexorably toward that which Pope Francis calls “the end of the created order itself?”
Out of the depths we call to you, Lord; Lord hear our cry (Psalm 130).
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.