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U.S., European bishops call for elimination of nuclear weapons

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released July 6 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

“The indiscriminate and disproportionate nature of nuclear weapons compel the world to move beyond nuclear deterrence,” the declaration said.

Titled “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” the declaration was released a day ahead of the July 7 conclusion of a second U.N. conference discussing a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons altogether.

The declaration was signed by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions.

“The teaching of our church, from the catechism to St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, about the urgent need for nuclear disarmament is clear,” Bishop Cantu said in a statement accompanying the declaration’s release. “It is time for us to heed this moral imperative and promote human security both within the United States and Europe and globally.”

The U.S. and most European nations have sat on the sidelines during the U.N. meetings discussing a weapons ban, preferring to focus on the need for broader security measures to allow for strategic stability on the road to verifiable reductions in nuclear arsenals. In all, about 40 nations are boycotting the negotiations to ban such weapons. Most nations continue to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service his committee and the European bishops wanted to highlight the “glaring absence” of nuclear weapons states, including the U.S., from the U.N. conference.

“The silence gives us some clarity to raise a moral voice, to say, ‘Let’s look from a moral perspective what our priorities are as a nation when we’re looking to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the update and renewal of the nuclear arsenal,” he said.

The declaration, he explained, serves to encourage the countries possessing nuclear weapons to join the U.N. meetings and exercise leadership in reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons stockpiles.

“There are some really serious moral issues, economic issues, priority issues, policy issues that we want to lift up to society and our own electorate,” the bishop said.

“We can lend a voice as well to the Vatican statement that was issued in 2014 that was really critical that clarified for the Catholic world at least and others … that the ethic of deterrence was supposed to be one step on the road toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It’s (stockpiling weapons) not the pathway itself,” Bishop Cantu added.

The declaration acknowledged that nuclear weapon states have been spending billions of dollars to modernize their nuclear arsenals. “These costly programs will divert enormous resources from other pressing needs that build security,” it said.

“The fact that most of the world’s nations are participating in this effort testifies to the urgency of their concern, an urgency intensified by the prospect of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and to the inequality and dissatisfaction of non-nuclear states about the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament,” the statement said.

The declaration cited Pope Francis, who during his papacy has repeatedly called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, most recently in a message to the United Nations’ opening conference on a treaty to ban such weapons in March.

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Shared faith should lead to action on behalf of persecuted Christians, pope and patriarch say

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Catholic News Service

YEREVAN, Armenia — Applying the common faith they professed publicly earlier in the day, Pope Francis and Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II urged common action on behalf of persecuted Christians, welcome for refugees and defense of the family.

Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, release doves from the Khor Virap monastery near Lusarat village in Armenia June 26. In the background is Mount Ararat, believed to be where Noah's Ark came to rest. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, release doves from the Khor Virap monastery near Lusarat village in Armenia June 26. In the background is Mount Ararat, believed to be where Noah’s Ark came to rest. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

The pope and the Oriental Orthodox patriarch signed their joint declaration at the end of Pope Francis’ June 24-26 visit to Armenia.

Earlier in the day, at an Armenian Divine Liturgy, both had spoken of their unity as believers in Christ and of their conviction that Christians are called by God to assist the poor, the persecuted and the needy.

While their joint declaration mentioned the progress made in the official Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue and their hopes for its continuation, the heart of the text focused on common Christian action to relieve suffering.

“We are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes,” the two leaders said. “Countless innocent people” are “being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world.”

“Religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality,” they said.

The Christians being martyred for their faith belong to different churches and their suffering “is an ‘ecumenism of blood,’ which transcends the historical divisions between Christians.”

The two leaders prayed that the terrorists waging war on Christians and other minorities would convert, and they also prayed that “those who are in a position to stop the violence” would hasten to do so.

“We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns,” the declaration said.

The two denounced the use of a religion “to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence.”

While focused on the headline-grabbing war in Syria, the two leaders did not ignore the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan where the majority of people are ethnic Armenians and had voted for independence. The joint declaration urged “a peaceful resolution” of the conflict.

“We ask the faithful of our churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families,” they said. The Christian faith demands concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin insisted.

Looking at the spread of secularization, the pope and patriarch noted how heavily cultural change is impacting the family. “The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman,” they said.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Head of Ukrainian Catholic Church skeptical of papal-Orthodox declaration

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The joint declaration signed Feb. 12 in Cuba between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has met with a tepid reaction from Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, speaks to students at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School in Perth Amboy, N.J., Nov. 11. (CNS photo/Marlo Williamson, The Catholic Spirit)

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, speaks to students at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School in Perth Amboy, N.J., Nov. 11. (CNS photo/Marlo Williamson, The Catholic Spirit)

“In general it is positive,” he said in a Feb. 12 interview with Ukrainian Father Ihor Yatsiv and translated from Ukrainian.

“In it are raised questions, which are of concern to both Catholics and Orthodox, and it opens new perspectives for cooperation. I encourage all to look for these positive elements. However, the points which concern Ukraine in general and specifically the (Ukrainian church) raised more questions than answers.”

One positive is that the Russian Orthodox “no longer seem to object to our right to exist. In reality, in order to exist and to act, we are not obliged to ask permission from anybody,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. The joint declaration says that “the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist” and to do what is necessary to minister to their faithful.

On the other hand, he added, “this text has caused deep disappointment among many faithful of our church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. Today, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truth nature of this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See for Russian aggression against Ukraine. I can certainly understand those feelings.”

He said, “I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this declaration and not to exaggerate its importance for church life. We have experienced more than one such statement, and will survive this one as well.”

In analyzing the first meeting in at least 1,000 years between a sitting pope and the patriarch of Orthodoxy’s largest branch, “one notices immediately, especially from their comments after the meeting, that the two sides existed on two completely different planes and were pursuing different goals. His Holiness Pope Francis experienced this encounter primarily as a spiritual event,” the archbishop said. “From the Moscow patriarch, one immediately sensed that this wasn’t about any Spirit, or theology or actual religious matters.”

He added: “Did these two parallel realities intersect during this meeting? I don’t know, but according to the rules of mathematics, two parallel lines do not intersect.

“For a document that was intended to be not theological, but essentially sociopolitical, it is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text,” which Major Archbishop Shevchuk said was “beyond their capabilities.” He was speaking of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, responsible for drafting the declaration, and whose members, he said, were “exploited” during the drafting process by the Russian Orthodox Department of External Affairs.

“One gets the impression that the Moscow Patriarchate is either stubbornly refusing to admit that it is a party to the conflict (the separatist war in eastern Ukraine), namely, that it openly supports the aggression of Russia against Ukraine, and, by the way, also blesses the military actions of Russia in Syria as a ‘holy war,’ or it is appealing first of all to its own conscience, calling itself to the same prudence, social solidarity, and the active building of peace. I do not know,” Archbishop Shevchuk said.

In the declaration, the two leaders insisted on the need to stop the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

“The very word conflict is obscure here and seems to suggest to the reader that we have a ‘civil conflict’ rather than external aggression by a neighboring state,” the major archbishop said.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said in the declaration, “We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis,” and called on their churches “to refrain from taking part in the confrontation and to not support any further development of the conflict.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is one of 22 Eastern churches in communion with Rome and shares a spiritual and liturgical heritage with its Orthodox counterparts, “has never supported nor promoted the war. However, we have always supported and will support the people of Ukraine. We have never been on the side of the aggressor,” Archbishop Shevchuk said.

“Our priests have never taken up arms, as opposed to what has happened on the other side. Our chaplains, as builders of peace, suffer the freezing cold together with our soldiers on the front and with their very own hands carry the wounded from the battlefield, wipe away the tears of mothers who mourn their dead children. We care for the wounded and for those who have suffered as a result of the fighting, regardless of their national origin, their religious or political beliefs,” he added.

“No one invited me to express my thoughts and so, essentially, as had already happened previously, they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “From our experience, gained over many years, we can say that when the Vatican and Moscow organize meetings or sign joint texts, it is difficult to expect something good.”

But he cautioned against Ukrainian Catholics criticizing Pope Francis. “I would invite all not to rush in judging him, not to remain on the reality level of those who expect only politics from this meeting and want to exploit a humble pope for their human plans at all costs.”

On the papal flight from Mexico to Rome Feb. 17, Pope Francis was asked about the major archbishop’s interview.

“When I read this, I was worried,” said the pope, who explained that he has known and respected Archbishop Shevchuk for years.

The archbishop’s criticism seemed “a bit strange,” he said, but when people speak, their words must be read in the context of what they are living. The Ukrainians have the experience of Russian aggression toward the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Russian support for separatist fighting in Eastern Ukraine. That experience cannot be ignored, he said.

“You can understand how people in that situation feel this way,” the pope said. The archbishop’s right to express his opinion must be respected, he said, “especially in this situation.”

 

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden aboard the papal flight from Mexico.

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Historic first: Pope Francis to meet with Russian Orthodox patriarch

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow Feb. 12 in Cuba on the pope’s way to Mexico.

It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Feb. 5. Read more »

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