Looking up at the sky as a young teen one day in Daly City, Calif., Archbishop John C. Wester had one thought as he saw military planes overheard.

Were they ours, or were they Russian planes?

The year was 1962, perhaps the first time nuclear war between the two superpowers seemed likely to erupt as the Cuban Missile Crisis played out and students were taught to prepare for an atomic attack by diving under their desks at schools.

“I don’t think going under our desks was very helpful,” Wester said Sunday in Santa Fe, moments before issuing a call for the world to rid itself its nuclear weapons.

Now, some 60 years later, he said he wants to do more to end the threat of an atomic war. Wester spoke and prayed during a 30-minute prayer service and ceremony at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe before he unveiled a sign bearing an image of Pope Francis and a quote uttered by the pope in Hiroshima in 2020: “The possession of nuclear arms is immoral.”

Wester said “our archdiocese needs to be facilitating, encouraging an ongoing conversation” about nuclear disarmament.

He urged people to “pray for God’s intervention” to keep that conversation going.

At least 125 people were present for the service, many bearing roses in honor of the Lady of Guadalupe. Among them was Karen Weber, who said it’s “highly symbolic” for Wester to speak out on the “abolishment of nuclear weapons.”

The shrine is across the street from the Firestone building at West Alameda and Guadalupe streets in downtown Santa Fe, where Los Alamos National Laboratory recently opened a small office. The proximity of the two locales was not lost on Mary Riseley, who described herself as a Quaker and an Episcopalian and who handed out roses to participants in Sunday’s event.

Calling Wester a “prophet in the Catholic Church,” she said it’s important for him to stand up “for peace and understanding” during these times of turmoil.

In his comments, Wester alluded to the growing tension around the Russia-Ukraine border and said there are at least “40 active conflicts in the world.”

“We need to be instruments of peace,” he said, especially as we head into the Christmas season, a “season of peace.”

The current arms race, he said “is more ominous” than any that came before.

Efforts to defuse the potential for the use of nuclear weapons must start with prayer, he said.

Asked what he wants to see when he looks up in the sky now, Wester first referred to the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where the U.S. military dropped atomic bombs to end the war with Japan in 1945.

Wester said, “When those children in Japan looked up, they saw atomic bombs that annihilated them.”

Now, he said, “We want to see the light of Christ, the light of peace.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(29) comments

Kirk Holmes

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to the Department of State the things that are the Department of State’s.

joe martinez

If the Archbishop and the Pope are talking to the world, they are wasting their time and reducing their cred. Does the Pope think Pakistan, crazy Iran and North Korea, China and Russia will listen? China and Russia have warfare in their DNA and they have expansionist desires. We absolutely need the deterrent. Advanced non-nuclear weapons have been developed and can kill as many people as nuclear ones; just takes longer. Numbers are imprecise but more Japanese civilians were killed with fire-bombing than by the nuclear bombs. The Pope and Archbishop should pray for a drastic change in human nature. Ain't gonna happen. Btw, I am a practicing Catholic. Mass every morning and Sunday. I respect the Archbishop's and Pope's views on the faith but dismiss anything and everything political from them. Both come from far left views I don't share. Tell the priests to keep their homilies to 5 minutes or less Archbishop Wester.

Chris Mechels

Mr. Martinez, you seem to have a profound lack of history on this matter. The country which needs to "hear" the Archbishop and the Pope is the United States, which has threatened China with nuclear weapons since 1951. WE are the reason China finally got nukes in 1964. It is US, not China and Russian that "have warfare in their DNA". Russia and China developed "nuclear deterrence" because of US and our constant bullying. Iran and N Korea need them for the same reason.

The reason we haven't used nukes since 1945 is that the USSR had them also, and even so we considered nukes in Korea and Viet Nam.

The Archbishop and Pope may well have little effect, but they try. What about you?? As for the use of nukes against Japan, that was not to "end the war" it was to threaten the Russians. Both James Byrnes and General Groves acknowledged that. So, read some history, and don't dis those with good motives. For history "The Decision to Drop the Bomb" by Alperovitz is a good start.

John Cook

Typical present-day 'Christian'. Your faith is only for show at the church. Not for practicing in the world. Christ died for His beliefs; you won't even vote for them.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well stated Mr. Martinez.

Emily Koyama

Yup, with Mr Martinez on this one. Cook and Mechels live in a fairy tale, kumbaya world that does not exist. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, et al, are counting on people like this to bring about the demise of the USA.

Chris Mechels

Sorry Emily, but I'm not a "kumbaya" type. As noted, I worked at LANL, in X-Division amongst others; they design the nukes. I also served in Korea, and follow developments there closely. We threatened North Korea with nukes constantly, and this finally led to their getting their own nukes. I was in Korea when we ILLEGALLY, in violation of the armistice introduced nukes into Korea. You seem ignorant, very ignorant. Do you have ANY background in this area?? or just a loud mouth?? Please drop the ad hominem attacks.

Chris Mechels

Yesterday morning’s gathering at the statue of Guadalupe in downtown Santa Fe with Archbishop Wester calling our attention to the threat we all face from the proliferation of nuclear weapons was a welcome and courageous message. After all, Los Alamos Lab with its mammoth budget to promote and produce weapons of mass destruction, and enjoying a well-trained chorus of support from all our politicians puts the Archbishop in the role of David standing up to the ‘Establishment Goliath’.

John Wester, as a man and as the Archbishop, demonstrated real moral leadership to speak out in the heart of an area so identified with the inhumane history of nuclear weapons development and so seemingly willing to accept economic benefit in exchange for silence. Perhaps Archbishop Wester’s example will resonate in the leadership of the other faith communities in Santa Fe and by this time next year the list started by his example will be longer and even more powerful.

Cathie Sullivan

Pamela Gilchrist

Yesterday, I was inspired by the courageous words of Archbishop Wester and those gathered near Our Lady of Guadalupe for the unveiling of a sign with the prophetic words of Pope Francis, "Nuclear weapons are immoral." A moment of peace and hope was palpable as Archbishop Wester spoke strong words calling us into dialog to put an end to the production of nuclear weapons.

These words will give my heart courage as I stand on the corner of East Alameda and S. Guadalupe Street each Friday at noon where I join with others to protest the obscene and continuing buildup of nuclear weapons. Please join us.

Some 86 nations have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and 51 have ratified it (meaning they are bound by its provisions). The treaty is now international law. The US and other nuclear weapons states are breaking international law.

I look forward to a continuing dialog.

Karen Weber

In response to Mr. Mello’s comments, my experience is that the most successful actions are grounded in a vision, something which the Archbishop gave in his remarks yesterday with a vision of peace. It was a significant event. The Archbishop also spoke of the steps he will be taking after the New Year to open and sustain meaningful dialogue about nuclear disarmament. As I imagine Mr. Mello knows, this is not a small task in a city and state heavily influenced by the nuclear weapons industry. As a member of the public, dismissively referred to as sycopanthic in Mr. Mello’s comments, and as someone born into the Catholic tradition, I take inspiration from the courageous stance of the Archbishop and a strengthened resolve to be an active “instrument of peace” in our world.

Mike Johnson

Seriously??? Nobody cares or respects what this guy says and thinks about these kind of issues. And once again, he is using God to argue a partisan political topic. Stick to your flock shepherd, and stay out of politics.

Emily Hartigan

So, Dr. Mike, you think the bomb is merely political? Hypothetical?

Mike Johnson

It is totally political, look at who lines up when you use the dog whistle of nuclear disarmament. Not hypothetical at all, we used it for good reasons, it not doubt saved the lives of my father and uncles by not having to invade Japan, and talk to the Bataan Death March survivors who were imprisoned in Japan if you think it it didn't save their lives too, I have, they know too. We should use it again if necessary against enemies like Russia, China, and should have used it in Vietnam, IMO.

Chris Mechels

Mike, I like many of your posts but I suggest you Fact Check on the atomic bombs. I suggested a book to Martinez in this link, by Alperovitz. It seems that the Japanese surrendered when the Russians entered the war, not because of the nukes. They didn't relish having a Russian invasion. Byrnes and Groves were intent on intimidation of the Soviets. The joke was on them, as Stalin knew all about the bomb, from spies at Los Alamos. When we used the bomb, he knew we would attempt to intimidate him, so he accelerated his bomb effort, and surprised us with the 1949 test. Its all history, check it out. BTW, I worked in X-Division at LANL, so I know about bomb effects. I can understand having 10 to 100, for deterrence, but the numbers we have today are obscene, a threat to our species survival. We would do well to sober up. LANL is just in it for the money, lots of money. Totally cynical.

Mike Johnson

Sorry Chris, I have read many of these revisionist histories about the event, but I do not believe them and find the traditional history, as repeated here and taught in most all history classes, as well as my close relatives memories, are more credible:https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1946/12/if-the-atomic-bomb-had-not-been-used/376238/

Mike Johnson

And we know reasonable people can disagree......https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/debate-over-japanese-surrender

John Cook

Another right-winger who thinks faith is just for show at church. Not for living in the world.

Mike Johnson

I have no "faith" in pedophiles like these people.

Chris Mechels

It is certainly wise to oppose nuclear weapons, which threaten our civilization. The question is how to do this effectively, esp as our Congressional reps have long supported LANL and their nuclear weapons work. Retired from LANL, since 1994, I came to believe that LANL was a huge, very successful, extortion racket and I still believe that.

Another huge, expensive, extortion racket is the NM government. Their latest criminal activity is the Cannabis Act, and its implementation. Those pressing for the Act, Egolf and the Governor, stand to benefit, directly and personally, from their involvement with the cannabis "industry". The Act is being implemented in a series of Rule Makings, driven by phony "deadlines" impossible to meet with legal hearings, so they are using ILLEGAL hearings, in violation of the NM Rules Act. This in nothing less than criminal activity, driven by Egolf, MLG, et al; and it is setting up a criminal enterprise, with illegal Rules, and no effective oversight. Our Attorney General should challenge this illegal effort, but of course does not.

I support legalization of cannabis. I do not support creating a criminal cannabis establishment which controls cannabis production. The Arch Bishop and the Catholic Church are right to oppose the Cannabis Act, as it reeks of corruption, including the elimination of penalties for government Malfeasance. The criminals eliminating the criminal penalties. Not a pretty picture.

In the end, the criminal drug culture being created under the Cannabis Act may be more destructive to our state than nuclear weapons have been. Thanks to Egolf and MLG for making this possible. Criminals in our midst.

Sasha Pyle

The event was extremely meaningful, despite Mr. Mello's lifelong insistence on raining on any parade that isn't run by his organization. The Archbishop's comments and prayer were absolutely clear. Whatever this Archdiocese has said or done in the past is irrelevant now that there is a clear moral directive coming from the Vatican. For the first time in my lifetime, there is a Pope who believes the Church should advocate for peace, disarmament and justice, and I am extremely proud of his courageous stance and of Archbishop Wester for matching it. Mr. Mello's sour-grapes attitude is a perfect example of what Bill Maher has identified as the dumbest reflexes within progressivism--complaining about every iota of progress, and jealous infighting in the name of ideological purity. Let it go, Greg. Those of us who were actually at the event saw something positive and uncompromised. We will all be 'too late' if we can't work together for the common good. This beautiful bilingual sign and its inspiring dedication represent progress and healing among many sectors of our vibrant community.

Jay Coghlan

The Archbishop explicitly stated that his office will come out with more on nuclear disarmament after the New Year. I believe him to be a good, honorable and devout man. Further, he recognizes that his Santa Fe Archdiocese has a special role to play in promoting nuclear disarmament given that probably more money is spent on nuclear weapons in his diocese than any other diocese in the country. This is because of the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base (which probably has the largest repository of nuclear weapons in the country with up to 2,500 warheads stored in active reserve).

Recall that “Santa Fe” means the Holy or Sacred Faith of St Francis, the patron saint of the environment and tireless advocate of peace and pious voluntary poverty. The present Pope draws his papal name from St Francis. The Los Alamos Lab is radically expanding its nuclear weapons programs that are helping to fuel a dangerous new nuclear arms race. Meanwhile, Mayor Webber’s administration embraces Lab expansion into our City as “economic development.” Therefore, it is highly appropriate of Archbishop John Wester to dedicate and bless a sign quoting Pope Francis that “the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

I eagerly look forward to more from the Archbishop.

Jay Coghlan

Nuclear Watch New Mexico


Greg Mello

These statements do not go as far as the Archdiocese has previously gone, for example in the mid-1990s when the Archbishop called for a halt to all construction at LANL pending complete, site-wide environmental analysis, or in the 2000s, when representatives of the Archdiocese joined with other members of the New Mexico Conference of Churches to oppose plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory specifically, amid a call for nuclear disarmament (see http://lasg.org/campaigns/The_Call_Religious_Endorsers.htm; agree text at http://lasg.org/campaigns/CallEndorsers.htm).

More reality is needed to fill out and balance this article. Unless Archbishop Wester can immediately follow up the pious generalities quoted here with their obvious specific application in his own diocese and parishes, these "fine words," like the sycophantic comments from members of the public we see quoted here, "butter no parsnips." Without specificity and sacrifice these words will, like the virtue signalling almost universal among politicians and now throughout the liberal community, do less than nothing for our common morality.

Hypocrisy is the name of that vice which pretends to virtue. Overcoming his silence about the huge nuclear weapons factory growing a few miles from the Shrine of Our Lady, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Saint Francis, that great man of peace, is now the task at hand. It is not wrong to build castles in the air as long as we build foundations under them, as Thoreau said. The public conscience of the community needs those foundations.

Time waits for no man or woman, not even an Archbishop. As Martin Luther King reminded us all, "there is such a thing as being too late." It will quickly be apparent whether these words are sincere, or whether they just feel that way as is the modern tendency. "By their fruits ye shall know them." If the "conversation about nuclear disarmament" does not quickly come down from the clouds and deal with the fact that the best-funded nuclear weapons site in the world is a few miles away from downtown Santa Fe, where the largest nuclear warhead program in the US is underway, it will not be sincere.

We are ready to help. My wife and I, and other members of this organization, have been on the journey described by the Archbishop for more than three decades. We were deeply involved in the creation of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and have long histories within the Catholic Church as well. Our work will be the main reference on US nuclear weapons at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, slated to begin early in the new year. We will help however we can.

John Cook

You sound like Susan Sarandan. That is only a compliment if you think Donald Trump was a good thing.

Emily Hartigan

Maria, facts to support that ugly allegation?

But even were he "corrupt" in a way that differentiates him from the rest of us sinners, his message of peace would remain valid. Daniel Berrigan put it even more succinctly: "The bomb is wrong." Peace.

Maria Bautista

This Archbishop is a corrupt man, he has shown is colors...he has a history.

John Cook

The point of Christ the Redeemer is that all men are corrupt and fall short of the glory of God. Because God is just, all men must be condemned for those sins. To avoid this result, God sent his Son to take our sins unto Himself that we might be redeemed by the Grace of God. I mention all of this to say: every act of this Archbishop I have seen and heard while he has been in Santa Fe make me proud to live in a City where he leads the Catholic church. Observation says he is seeking God's grace and God's good for all the people. Bravo to him.

Emily Hartigan

Strong. Would be much stronger if you used inclusive language.

All humans.. Godself... you know, that Mystery of Love Who is beyond our ken or genders, but surely didn't just come to redeem men. 😘. Merry Christmas.

John Cook

I thought about it and decided to use the language of the Gospels, instead. It's also still proper present English usage to use 'men' as inclusive of all humans. Have a very Merry Christmas! And may God bless us all in Her infinite mercy.

Emily Hartigan

John, John, what a dodge. The language of the Gospels is actually much more interesting, using "anthropos" and other translations of translations of what men wrote -- but surely you understand the layers of patriarchy involved? If the Gospel is good news, it is to all. Not just the guys. And S/He is a Mystery, of Love .... so we're all good in the end. Blessings, and the Joy of the unexpected/anticipated Light.

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