MIL OSI Translation. Region: Italy –
Source: The Holy See in Italian
Victor Gaetan and Hirotsugu Terasaki, director general of the Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai International, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, in front of the statue of Saint Agnes, who survived the 1945 nuclear attack on Nagasaki, Japan
by Victor Gaetan *”Jesus and Buddha were builders of peace and promoters of non-violence”. (Pope Francis, 28 May 2022)Nagasaki (Agenzia Fides) – In the United Nations headquarters in New York, on the third floor, an evocative statue of St. Agnes, holding her lamb, stands as an eerie reminder of nuclear destruction. The statue of the saint known for resisting multiple attempts to kill her survived the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 The bomb exploded 500 meters from Urakami Cathedral, at the time the largest Catholic church in Asia, and incinerated between 60,000 and 80,000 people, of whom no more than 150 were soldiers. The statue of Saint Agnes was found facedown in the rubble of the cathedral. Declassified Pentagon documents have solved the riddle of why Nagasaki was targeted, despite not being included in the initial target list: at the last moment, the name of the city was added by hand, by an unknown hand, to erase the most historic Catholic community in Japan, in retaliation for the diplomatic relations established between Japan and the Holy See in 1942. The United States could not forgive the Vatican of having established diplomatic relations with his enemy, Tokyo.Voices of HibakushaIn the UN Building, right in front of the statue of Saint Agnes, I met the anti-nuclear activist Hirotsugu Terasaki, director general of the secular Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai International (SGI) , representing approximately 11 million people worldwide. Founded in 1930, the Soka Gakkai is Japan’s largest organized religious group. It is inspired by the teachings of Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese Buddhist master. Soka Universities in Tokyo and Aliso Viejo, California, are also associated with this faith tradition. Collaborating regularly with the Holy See, Soka Gakkai International also participated in the 2017 Vatican conference entitled “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Comprehensive Disarmament.” Pope Francis sent public condolences when the third influential president of Soka Gakkai International, Daisaku Ikeda, died last November at the age of 95. Terasaki was at the United Nations attending the second meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW), an ambitious disarmament treaty – the first to prohibit countries from possessing nuclear weapons – signed by 93 countries, most recently Sri Lanka. It took effect on January 22, 2021. Terasaki explained that Soka Gakkai International’s commitment to disarmament dates back more than half a century and is directly linked to his country’s tragic experience of a nuclear holocaust. The youth section of the Soka Gakkai in Japan started a campaign in 1972 aimed at “protecting the fundamental human right to survival”, collecting and making known the testimonies of survivors of the Japanese nuclear war, known as hibakusha (bomb-stricken people). Over the next 12 years, the students collected thousands of testimonies, which filled a total of 80 volumes. “My personal involvement led me to confront the harrowing tales of the hibakusha,” Terasaki recalled. “Some initially agreed to be interviewed, but once the interview began they were left voiceless, suffocated by the weight of their anguish and pain. However, there were those who courageously shared their suffering and trauma. I was in a state of total shock witnessing their visceral expressions of pain. They shook me to the depths of my soul. These testimonies have brought to my conscience the inhumanity of nuclear devastation.” Of the 650,000 hibakusha recognized by the Japanese government, over 113,000 are alive. Even today, they influence the contemporary disarmament movement, inspiring its leaders: “These people form the foundation of peacebuilding,” summarizes Terasaki. Telling collaborations A fortuitous partnership helped amplify Soka Gakkai International’s anti-nuclear commitment in 2007 The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (which won the Nobel Peace Prize for creating public awareness of the nuclear weapons catastrophe in 1985) started the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and asked SGI to sign on as a prime contributor to help gain global approval of the TPNW. Both were particularly committed to moving the consciences of young people. Terasaki recalls: “To realize our vision of a nuclear-free world, we felt compelled to create a vast global network committed to educating people about the devastating reality of nuclear weapons. Our engagements began with organizing focus groups for diplomats around the world to raise awareness of the consequences of nuclear exposure” – once again putting the humanitarian impact at the center of the discussion. Two other forms of mobilization have been regional anti-nuclear conferences, from Central Asia to the Caribbean, and direct pressure on foreign ministries. In the space of just a decade, the TPNW was adopted by the United Nations in July 2017. The Holy See was one of the first signatories. “It was truly a miraculous outcome,” confirms Terasaki, who credits many other organizations with contributing to the success, including Pax, the Dutch Catholic peace group, and the World Council of Churches. Not surprisingly, the TPNW did not has been signed by the nine countries with nuclear capacity: Russia (5,889 warheads); United States (5,224 warheads); China (410); France (290); United Kingdom (225); Pakistan (170); India (164); Israel (90); North Korea (30). According to data provided by ICAN, not even five states hosting nuclear weapons on behalf of the United States have signed: Italy (35), Turkey (20), Belgium (15), Germany (15) and the Netherlands (15). The most inhumane weaponsThe main message of TPNW activists is that nuclear weapons are the most inhumane weapons ever created. They violate international law, cause serious environmental damage, undermine global security and divert resources from humanitarian emergencies. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated, not just controlled. Yet a cover story in Scientific American magazine last December warned of the US government’s plans to upgrade its nuclear capability with another $1.5 trillion to modernize its nuclear arsenal. Currently, there are approximately 12,500 nuclear warheads worldwide, with the United States and Russia holding nearly 90% of the stockpile. As Terasaki explained, “the current plan to expand nuclear capabilities stems from an unshakeable confidence in the utility of nuclear deterrence. However, we must ask ourselves whether this is a sound political strategy or whether it is a myth created to perpetuate nuclear weapons.” The current nuclear expansion – he continues – will not lead to peace and security based on the global nuclear balance, but will precipitate towards global destruction, toward Armageddon.” The Moral DiscourseI asked Teriyaki how he describes the unique role played by faith-based organizations like Soka Gakkai International in the newly emerging disarmament movement such as that expressed in the TPNW. He explained that while the TPNW’s next steps are largely diplomatic and focused on state policies, faith-based organizations must continue to highlight the negative impact of nuclear weapons from a spiritual and humanitarian perspective.” world is grappling with growing challenges, the influence of moral discourse becomes increasingly pertinent,” underlines Teriyaki. And this is a perspective strongly supported by the Holy See. At the same time, the Soka Gakkai’s affiliation with the Komeito Party (NKP), founded by Daisaku Ikeda in 1964, gives it a unique influence on the perception of governing elites; The Soka Gakkai is not “just” a secular Buddhist entity. In the 1960s, Ikeda advocated reopening relations between China and Japan. He visited China ten times between 1974 and 1997, meeting leaders Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping. In the 1970s, Ikea traveled to the Soviet Union and met Prime Minister Aleksey Kosygin, transmitting conciliatory messages between Beijing and Moscow, at the height of tensions between China and the USSR. Since 1999 the NKP has been the junior partner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LPD). Ikeda’s vision converges with that of Pope Francis: The Japanese leader noted: “In the end, peace will not be achieved by politicians signing treaties. Human solidarity is built by opening our hearts to each other. This is the power of dialogue.” Kazakhstan and BahrainTeresaki points to two inspiring images of the collaboration he has witnessed in his travels to promote peace, denuclearization and intercultural dialogue: in 2022 he participated in the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World Religions and traditional in Kazakhstan as a Buddhist representative and, a month later, he was in Bahrain for the “East and West for human coexistence” forum. These events brought him into close contact with Pope Francis, whose encyclicals “resonate deeply with me” , dics Terasaki. “I was particularly moved to see the atmosphere of reconciliation between Catholic and Sunni Islamic leaders sitting in the same room,” he observes. “These forums have offered a promising platform for religious leaders around the world to engage in sincere and meaningful discourse, sharing insights and wisdom on the pressing global issues facing humanity.” According to Terasaki, a fundamental Buddhist principle that informs the anti-nuclear defense of Soka Gakkai International is that individual security and societal security are one and are interdependent. The Mahayana tradition followed by Soka Gakkai International emphasizes how an individual, through discipline and deepening of practice, brings about a change within that impacts the outside world.” Soka Gakkai International is committed to safeguarding the dignity of life , the happiness of all individuals and the collective security of the world. Reliance on nuclear weapons radically contradicts these goals, as it puts at risk the very security we aim for.” As Pope Francis declared in Nagasaki in 2019, “International peace and stability are incompatible with any attempt to build on fear of mutual destruction or a threat of total annihilation; are only possible starting from a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation”. (Agenzia Fides 17/1/2024)*Victor Gaetan is Senior Correspondent of the National Catholic Register and deals with international issues. He also writes for Foreign Affairs magazine and has collaborated with Catholic News Service. He is the author of the book God’s Diplomats: Pope Francis, Vatican Diplomacy, and America’s Armageddon (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), reissued in paperback in July 2023. His website is VictorGaetan.org
Pope Francis meets Hirosima Ikeda, son of the founder of Soka Gakkai International Daisaku Ikeda, on the occasion of the Vatican Conference “Prospects for a world free from nuclear weapons and for complete disarmament” held in the Vatican in 2017
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and/or sentence structure not be perfect.