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Archbishop to continue his call for disarmament at Trinity commemoration

Photo of the Trinity Test taken by Jack W. Aeby, civilian worker at Los Alamos laboratory, working under the aegis of the Manhattan Project.
Jack W. Aeby
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of the Trinity Test taken by Jack W. Aeby, civilian worker at Los Alamos laboratory, working under the aegis of the Manhattan Project.

July 16 marks the anniversary of the 1945 Trinity Test in New Mexico, the world's first atomic blast. On Sunday, faith leaders and advocates will gather to remember and call for disarmament. KUNM spoke with Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium and Santa Fe Archbishop Rev. John Wester, who says the world is in a dangerous place right now with nuclear weapons.

REV. JOHN WESTER: We have a moral obligation to look at it, not only because of the potential destructive force of all these weapons that can destroy civilization many times over, but for the damage it's already done.

KUNM: Tina, you and the downwinders have been holding these commemorations for many, many years. What will be your focus this year?

TINA CORDOVA: The TBDC (Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium) has actually been holding commemorations -- I believe this will be the 17th year -- in Tularosa. We will have that commemoration on July 20. But the event with Archbishop Wester has been very special to us, because he has always given a special blessing to the downwinders who attend and the uranium workers, and there's this acknowledgement from the greater community for our sacrifice and suffering.

KUNM: I wanted to ask you where things stand with the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, now that it has expired.

CORDOVA: We have to continue to fight for the bills that have been introduced and passed in the Senate to be passed in the House. Congress does allow itself procedural things that can be done once a bill has expired. But you know, it's a pretty precarious position to be in right now. Claims cannot be filed by anyone.

KUNM: Archbishop Wester, you have several speakers coming this year, one who is part of an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize, and also a professor who grew up in Japan. Can you talk about why they are also part of the event this year?

WESTER: Yes, Dr Ira Helfand and he’s the main shaker, mover, so to speak, for Back from the Brink. He speaks very clearly, very persuasively, to the common good and about why we should be working toward multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament. Dr Hirokazu Miyazaki has become a dear friend, and he himself is a professor at Northwesternn [University] and he's written several books, but his main theme is hope, how he sees hope embedded in the human person.

We have many other speakers as well. We have religious [leaders], you know, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Native American, Sikh, Muslim, African spiritualist, Hindu, to come together, to pray, to advocate, to support one another, and to really see how we can be a strong force here in New Mexico for sustainable peace, not just kind of a pie in the sky peace. It's going to be, I think, a very important moment. This is going to be in Albuquerque this year. The last two we had were in Santa Fe and even if they can't attend, we ask you to pray with us, to think with us, to converse with us, so that we can move the needle in this very important endeavor.

KUNM: We don't hear a lot about disarmament. We used to hear more about it in the 80s, in the Cold War. How do you engage people in this topic, especially in a state like this, where a lot of the economy is tied to the nuclear industry.

WESTER: The movie “Oppenheimer” pointed out something we've all known, but got into the fact that this is where it all began. And so I think it's significant that we in New Mexico are contributing to this important cause. We know a lot about this, and as Tina said, a lot of our people have been hurt. We're in a second nuclear arms race that arguably is far more dangerous than the first, with hypersonic delivery systems with AI and so many other technological advances. With the state of the tensions of the world, it's imperative that we become more and more aware of the situation, and all we're asking is that we have a conversation about this. It seems like we have literally trillions of dollars to spend on nuclear weapons, and we can't even come up with the money to compensate those who've been hurt by them. It doesn't make sense. Where are our priorities?

CORDOVA: You know, Megan, I would just like to say that we feel Archbishop Wester is incredibly courageous to take on this fight for justice on our behalf, but also to be the voice for disarmament, especially coming out of New Mexico, where this all started. And I really do believe that as the message is sent out about the nuclear arms race and the risks involved, more and more people become involved. And I really do believe faith leaders can lead this discussion so that people feel safe speaking about it and speaking out against proliferation, and so I really do thank Archbishop Wester for all he's done to start this conversation nationally and internationally.

A World Without Nuclear Weapons: From Reflection to Action, An Interfaith Remembrance of the Trinity Test takes place on Sunday, July 14 at 2 p.m. at Saint John XXIII Catholic Community in Albuquerque. Find out more at the KUNM Community Calendar.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.