A call to the leaders of the world

for the end of nuclear weapon development and the total elimination of all existing nuclear weapons

Conference of the Franciscan Family

June 1998

Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226A.D.) who wrote to his early followers that they were not to bear arms for any reason, Franciscan men and women throughout the world have continued to advocate peace and to challenge those caught up in the threatening arms race. The recent nuclear weapons tests in India and Pakistan make us aware once more how perilous are the threats to peace. A territorial war between these two countries could lead to desperate use of atomic weapons across the border. We are aware that other nations are attempting to develop or purchase nuclear arms. The decrease in the control of the tens of thousands of existing nuclear weapons makes the possibility of nuclear outbreak even more frightening.

It is abundantly clear that no power, neither an individual nation nor the United Nations, can prevent the widening spiral of proliferation, despite the fact that 148 nations have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. World health professionals insist that the medical requirements of a nuclear exchange are unimaginable and unavailable. The cost in human suffering would be enormous. Yet the fateful day of such an exchange looms closer and closer.

Although there are many signatories to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, we know that not all countries have signed. Even among those who have signed, the necessary ratification by proper government bodies is by no means certain. We are also aware that the treaty is interpreted by some as allowing for various forms of sub-critical tests and tests by simulation through new highly complex computer processes. Even with the signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CNTB) the development of new more lethal nuclear weapons continues by the major powers while proliferation among formerly non-nuclear states continues.

It is striking that India, for example, so long an advocate of the abolition of all nuclear weapons, should be the most recent source of nuclear expansionism. India still insists that it is ready to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and to join the signers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if they see the major nuclear powers clearly moving towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons as required by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the major powers, while willing to negotiate some reductions in arms, plan to maintain sizeable nuclear forces well into the next millennium which provides India, and other countries, with the excuse not to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CNTB).

We genuinely believe that there is an overwhelming desire among the people of the earth to remove the spectre of nuclear devastation from the face of the planet. The world's number one agenda should be how to safely rid the world of the instruments of evil and destruction. We urge all nations, especially the major nuclear powers, to respond positively to the challenge for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

In October 1997 Archbishop Renato Martino spoke on behalf of Pope John Paul II to the United Nations:
"Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation. The preservation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty demands an unequivocal commitment to their abolition. This is a moral challenge, a legal challenge and a political challenge. That multibased challenge must be met by the application of our humanityÉ Let not the immensity of their task dissuade us from efforts needed to free humanity from such a scourge."

This statement reflects an earlier historic call by the International Court of Justice July, 1996. The court stated:
"The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of International law applicable to armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."

There was a period of time when it was considered acceptable for a nation to keep some nuclear weapons for deterrence while proceeding to remove them from existence. However, the nuclear powers do not intend to completely rid themselves of their huge stockpiles of massive and indiscriminate means of destruction. In fact they are proceeding to test and develop even more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Again we call for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. The number and disbursement of nuclear weapons throughout the world makes their sudden use dangerously imminent. We also draw attention to the drastic impact that the nuclear weapons industry has on the poor, especially children. It is not only the destruction caused in the event of their use, but we protest the vast amounts of resources invested in research, development and production of these weapons of mass destruction.


Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, we work for peace, the rights of every human being, especially the most marginalised, as well as the respect for all of creation. In our International gatherings we have reiterated our abhorrence of war and have especially condemned the building, stockpiling research and the use of nuclear weapons.

As we enter the Third Millennium, we address this letter to you in the same spirit as St. Francis had when he addressed his "Letter to the Rulers of the People". He wrote out of concern, both for the Rulers and for the people. So too, we write to you with sincere concern for all the nations of the world. We Franciscans urge you to abolish all nuclear weapons and to commit our resources to the material and spiritual needs of the world community. Unless we do this, the horrendous dangers that threaten the human race are unthinkable.

Peace and Good!

Emanuela De Nunzio
General Minister SFO

Fr. John Corriveau
Minister General OFMCap

Sr. Carola Thomann
President FIC - TOR

Fr. Agostino Gardin
Minister General OFMConv

Fr. Giacomo Bini
Minister General OFM

Fr. Bonaventure Midili
Minister General TOR

Input for the ‘Canberra Franciscan’ and requests to Jack Smith: phone 61-2-62583824 fax 61-2-62583151 jacksmth@ozemail.com.au

Available on the World Wide Web at http://www.ozemail.com.au/~jacksmth/canfran.htm