Pope Francis welcomed seven Georgetown students and four faculty members to Vatican City last weekend for an international conference on nuclear disarmament.
The conference, hosted by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, took place on Nov. 10 and 11. Over the two days, the Georgetown delegation heard from 11 Nobel Peace Laureates, representatives from the United Nations and NATO, diplomats and acclesiastical officials on their approaches to reaching a world free of nuclear weapons.
Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., a 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.
Christiansen, who served as one of the chief advisers to the Vatican’s work at the United Nations Force, spoke at the conference on the urgent need, in the long term, to rid the globe of nuclear arms.
“Nuclear weapons must be treated as a wholly different class of weapons,” Christiansen said at the conference. “We should cease to imagine them as tools we can manage but rather as a curse we must banish.”
Representatives from Israel, Jordan and Japan also spoke on the negative impacts of nuclear weapons worldwide. Masako Wada, a survivor of the Nagasaki nuclear attack, gave a personal testimony.
The Catholic Church opposes the use and possession of nuclear weapons and has advocated for full abolishment of nuclear weapons. In April 2015, Pope Francis began to push for active disarmament of nuclear weapons, hosting international conferences to discuss methods of global nuclear disarmament.
Pope Francis spoke on the first day of the conference, noting that the threat, use and possession of nuclear weapons is reprehensible.
“Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security,” Pope Francis said. “They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
Nuclear experts noted the need for students around the world to get involved in the commitment to eliminating nuclear arms. Student delegations from Catholic University and Notre Dame University were also in attendance, an outgrowth of the organizers’ effort to involve young people in the initiative.
Daniel Rosenberg (SFS ’18), who attended the conference, noticed the positive feedback from the speakers on the attendance of the students at the conference.
“Everyone was super excited that we were there just because one of the things that they’ve really been focusing on is involving the youth,” Rosenberg said.
Students from the Georgetown delegation had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one conversations with some of the speakers. Hunter Estes (SFS ’19) spoke briefly with Pope Francis.
“The opportunity seems surreal, while particularly interested in the issue, being Catholic myself and
having the opportunity to actually meet the Pope and talk to him for a few minutes was easily one of the best moments of my life,” Estes said.
Many of the students in attendance, who were invited to go on the trip because of their academic interests in international security, were inspired to hear the leaders in their fields speak on pressing international security issues.
“My interest in terms of academic and security stuff at Georgetown and what I’m studying is very much motivated by my faith, and my hope to help people around the world,” Estes said. “To see that so tangibly being carried out by the leaders of my church feels like a dream, it still does.”
Ricardo Mondolfi (SFS ’19) said he appreciated hearing from leaders with different opinions about approaches to nuclear disarmament.
“It was an impactful academic experience, it provided me the opportunity to listen to a different perspective on nuclear weapons that I had gotten here,” Mondolfi said. “I got a much deeper understanding of what the Church’s position is, which is important both as a person and as a Catholic.”
For the Georgetown students who attended the conference, the experience of hearing distinguished lecturers speak on nuclear disarmament will impact their remaining time on the Hilltop and as they continue into their professional lives.
“So often as students, we spend four years working on a set of topics, but at times we don’t really see how it plays out in real life on the world stage,” Estes said. “Especially as a [School of Foreign Service] student, this was the nerdiest opportunity available and was just like an absolute dream.”