Archbishop John Wester: A Hero for Today’s Peace Movement

"Golden Rule" mosaic, by Norman Rockwell, hanging in the UN building. (UN Photo / Rick Bajornas)

By Kathleen Malley-Morrison

The Greek root of our modern word “hero” refers to “protecting” or “safeguarding.” In modern times, with the revival of Cold War rhetoric and growing threats—including literal threats—of nuclear Armageddon, life on this planet is in dire need of protecting and safeguarding. Recognition of the growing existential threat inherent in valuing profits and power above all else, as the military industrial complexes of the world do, has led to some important efforts to preserve life on earth—and to some heroes who support those efforts.

The foremost example of such endeavors is the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
(TPNW), which prohibits the developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Among the heroes, Archbishop John C. Wester of New Mexico has undertaken a courageous and tireless campaign to promote support for the TPNW in the United States, as Pope Francis has done on the international stage. The US leads the world in the size and power of its military industrial complex, which distorts the economy and drives the production of nuclear weapons, among other lethal weaponry. Indeed, Archbishop Wester maintains in his 2022 Pastoral Letter “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace” that, as Archbishop of Santa Fe, he has “a special responsibility to not only support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but also encourage its active implementation, including by the United States of America.”

Why would the Archbishop consider himself to have such a responsibility? Because his archdiocese is where the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were built, and it is currently the home of two national laboratories — Sandia and Los Alamos — where nuclear weapons research and development continue. As Wester told the Catholic News, “I never thought about how I’m going up against Goliath here in New Mexico and the big labs and the billions of dollars that the federal government gives. I just thought this was the right thing to do.” presents some more contemporary defining characteristics of heroes that also apply well to Archbishop Wester: “a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character” or “who is regarded as a role model or ideal.” The Archbishop is clearly a role model

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

for the nuclear disarmament movement—in part for his emphasis, like the Pope’s, on the immorality of nuclear weapons. In support of nuclear disarmament being the right thing to do, he constantly reminds his listeners that in a world without nuclear weapons, we can “spend our resources ending hunger and poverty, improving our schools and health care, securing life-giving employment and teaching everyone the life of peace and nonviolence.”

Archbishop Wester recommends strong actions on behalf of nuclear disarmament, including: support the TPNW; ask your pastor to pray for the abolition of nuclear weapons; hold public prayer vigils for world peace; work to convince those employed by the nuclear weapons industry to change their jobs; learn about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN); divest from nuclear companies; and urge your Congressional delegation and local officials to support the TPNW.

We also recommend: join our nuclear disarmament working group. Help us organize events, distribute flyers, support legislation, and lobby our elected officials, all in the cause of peace.

Read the Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter and heed his message. He is a hero for our times.

Kathleen Malley-Morrison, a Professor Emerita in the Boston University Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, is current chairperson of the MAPA Public Engagement & Movement Building subcommittee of the Nuclear Disarmament Working Group.