Tuesday evening marked the 77th anniversary of the United States’ atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Archbishop John C. Wester commemorated the day with a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, followed by a panel discussion with leaders from the United Church of Santa Fe, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe and Cochiti Pueblo.
Wester’s Mass centered on his January 2022 pastoral letter, which urged New Mexicans to work towards nuclear disarmament.
“The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has a special role to play in advocating for nuclear disarmament given the presence of the Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear weapons laboratories and the nation’s largest repository of nuclear weapons at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Wester wrote.
He offered a healing prayer on Tuesday for those who have been harmed by the production and use of nuclear weapons, including victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in Japan; Trinity Test Downwinders; uranium and nuclear weapons workers in New Mexico and beyond; and any future victims of atomic weaponry.
He also noted that this anniversary comes against the backdrop of Los Alamos National Laboratory ramping up production of nuclear weapons cores, called plutonium pits.
“This is the single most critical part of the government’s $2 trillion plan to completely rebuild existing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities, and to buy at enormous taxpayers’ expense new missiles, submarines and bombers to deliver them,” he said. “This is nuclear weapons forever.”
The following panel discussion featured Rev. Talitha Arnold of the United Church of Santa Fe, Rev. Holly Beaumont of Interfaith Worker Justice-NM, Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center and former Cochiti Pueblo Gov. Regis Pecos. They focused on calls for nuclear disarmament. Samia Assed, a representative of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was slated to participate but did not attend because the Islamic Center was holding a simultaneous prayer service for the Muslim men who were recently slain in Albuquerque.
Wester and other panelists brought up the long-held position of New Mexico’s congressional delegation and the national labs—that nuclear expansion is a valuable industry for the state, creating thousands of jobs at Los Alamos, Sandia and in supporting fields.
But they pushed back against that narrative.
Wester posed the question, “Who is it that really benefits from all that money?” noting that Los Alamos County is the fourth-richest in the US, but is surrounded by some of the poorest counties in the nation, and that the history of the nuclear industry in New Mexico doesn’t indicate prosperity—the state consistently ranks among the worst in the nation for metrics including poverty and child well-being. Arnold called attention to the environmental racism of the nuclear industry, pointing out that its burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.
Their calls for nonviolence come in the wake of the recent killings of four Muslim Americans in Albuquerque. Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Aftab Hussein, 41, and 25-year-old Naeem Hussain were all killed within a recent two-week span, sparking widespread fear among the city’s Muslim community. Their deaths followed the Nov. 7, 2021 killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62. Detectives are now trying to determine whether Ahmadi’s death is related to the more recent homicides, the Albuquerque Police Department wrote in an Aug. 6 statement.
APD Chief Harold Medina announced Tuesday that 51-year-old Muhammad Syed has been arrested and charged with the killings of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein.
Wester acknowledged the lives of the four men at the beginning of his homily, saying: “We cannot help but also remember the four Muslim men who were ambushed and cruelly murdered in Albuquerque—one last November, and three just recently. We in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and all of us here, I know are appalled at these hateful and horrific crimes, and we utterly condemn them.”
He offered prayers for the victims’ families, the Muslim community and the apprehension of the suspected killer.