Less than a week before the Christmas holiday, over 125 people came together at the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the afternoon of Sunday, December 19th to listen to Archbishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe give a blessing to two “signs of peace” he unveiled on-site during a short ceremony. The signs were revealed to show an image of Pope Francis and a quote uttered by the pope in Hiroshima in 2020: “The possession of nuclear arms is immoral.” During the blessing, the Archbishop spoke on his memories of “those days during the Cuban missile crisis when I would walk home from school having been instructed what to do in the event of a nuclear attack within a few thousand yards of a nuke missile site in San Francisco,” before issuing a call for the world to rid itself its nuclear weapons.
“We need to be instruments of peace,” he said, especially as we head into the Christmas season, a “season of peace.”
Wester said that the current arms race “is more ominous” than any that came before. He touched on the growing tension around the Russia-Ukraine border in mentioning that there are at least “40 active conflicts in the world,” and said “our archdiocese needs to be facilitating, encouraging an ongoing conversation” about nuclear disarmament. This is especially true in light of the fact that two of the US’s three nuclear weapons laboratories are to be found in the dioceses of Sandia and Los Alamos, and on top of that there are more nuclear warheads in his dioceses from the 2,500-some count stored in reserve at the Kirtland Air Force Base at Albuquerque. All of this means that more money is spent in his dioceses than any other dioceses in the country and perhaps the world.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a key part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plans to expand plutonium pit production (plutonium “pits” are the cores for new nuclear weapons), and the location of the signs has added significance because, less than 100 yards away, LANL is leasing an office building for its expanding work force as it ramps up production of plutonium pits. This is part of the accelerating nuclear arms race, arguably more dangerous than the Cold War. The increase in pit production from the lab is not to maintain “the already extensively tested and reliable stockpile,” but to create new weapons off “speculative new designs” that will be untested because of the global testing moratorium unless the US recklessly decides to get back into the testing game.
Many who attended the event held roses in honor of the Lady of Guadalupe that they placed at the foot of her statue and along the bottom of the signs at the end of the ceremony. Mary Riseley, an attendee who was handing out roses beforehand to other participants, called Wester a “prophet in the Catholic Church,” and said it’s important for him to stand up “for peace and understanding” during these times of turmoil. In his closing remarks, Archbishop Wester urged people to “pray for God’s intervention” to keep the nuclear disarmament conversation going, and wished that when we look up to the skies around the globe, from New Mexico to Japan, we “see the light of Christ, the light of peace.”