Pope Francis Meets With Faculty, Students Attending Nuclear Disarmament Conference

November 15, 2017

A Georgetown delegation of seven students and four faculty members had an audience with Pope Francis in Rome last week as they joined international representatives at a conference on nuclear disarmament.

Hosted by the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in Vatican City on November 10 and 11, the conference focused on the importance of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons, in line with Pope Francis’ emphasis on promoting world peace. 

The Georgetown delegation had an audience with the pope on November 10.

“The experience of meeting the Pope is difficult to put into words. It is quite literally an indescribable moment,” said David Palmieri (NHS’18). “To have the Holy Father's unwavering support on this issue means so much for the nuclear disarmament movement.”

“As our cohort of Hoyas involved aims to translate the impact, we are grateful to have the support of Pope Francis and the church in our effort toward nuclear disarmament,” he added.

Other students in the Georgetown delegation were Daniel Rosenberg (SFS’18), Hunter Estes (SFS’19), Bryant King (SFS’18), Ricardo Mondolfi Salmen (SFS’19), David Patou (C’18), and Theodore Dedon (G’20).

A Curse to Banish

Drew Christiansen, S.J., distinguished professor of ethics and global human development and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, led the Georgetown delegation. 

He spoke at the conference on the social and moral responsibility of scientists in solving the problem of nuclear threat and argued for the necessity of redefining nuclear arms.

“Nuclear weapons must be treated as a wholly different class of weapons,” Christiansen said. “We should cease to imagine them as tools we can manage, but rather as a curse we must banish.” 

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, led the conference, which included experts offering their perspectives on nuclear disarmament, religion, and civil society. 

A New Generation

The day before the Vatican conference, Christiansen and Carole Sargent, director of Georgetown’s Office of Scholarly Publications, presented a joint lecture at a related event at the Lay Centre in Rome. Sargent spoke about nuns who protest nuclear weapons, the subject of her upcoming book, while Christiansen presented on diplomatic developments.

John Borelli, special assistant to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia; Sister Marilyn McMorrow, visiting assistant professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service; and Pierce Corden, who will be an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program next spring, made up the rest of the delegation.

Theology Ph.D. candidate Theodore Dedon said his experience in Rome felt like history in the making.

“The student delegations from Notre Dame, Catholic University of America, and Georgetown all seemed to gain tremendously from participating in this event,” Dedon said, “and hopefully as we train a new generation of policymakers and influencers, they will remember this experience and aim toward that goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and implementing nuclear security projects, sponsored the university delegations.

False Sense of Security

Other conference participants explored the responsibility of the Church, civil society, and international organizations in initiating disarmament. 

Representatives from Israel, Jordan, and Japan, including Masako Wada, one of the last survivors of the Hiroshima nuclear attack, gave testimonies on the current and historical impact of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. 

Conference attendees included 11 Nobel Peace Laureates, representatives from the United Nations and NATO, diplomats from Russia, the United States, South Korea, and Iran, and Pope Francis himself, who gave an address on the first day of the conference. 

 Pope Francis called nuclear weapons “senseless” and condemned the holding of nuclear arsenals even for deterrence, hardening the Catholic Church’s stance on the technology. 

“Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security,” the Pope said in his remarks to the conference. “They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

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