“To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”

– Pope John Paul II on his visit to Hiroshima at the Peace Memorial Park, Feb. 25, 1981

Among the millions of people throughout the world mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have a special affection for him. His visit in 1981 to the atomic-bombed cities helped make the world aware of the importance of the terrible experience suffered by those cities.

On the eve of the death of the most traveled pontiff in history, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba issued a statement saying, “We have to make efforts to terminate nuclear weapons with a strong resolve by remembering the message of the pope.”*

A remarkable man, John Paul II used his incredible ability in languages to communicate as very few world figures have ever done. His personal touch inspired millions of young people in most of the nations of the world, regardless of their religious beliefs or race. They were keen to his message promoting peace and good will for all. And many more followed him in his tireless support of freedom and his staunch opposition to totalitarianism.

His position against war and pre-emptive strikes made him condemn the coalition attack on Iraq stating “War, like the one now in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity.” John Paul II opposed to the U.S. plan to lead an invasion of Iraq in 2003, calling the policy “illegal and unjust.”

In his first encyclical “Redemptor Hominis.” or “Redeemer of Man,” he warned that mankind was living in an era of growing fear and weapons of war that raised the specter of “unimaginable self-destruction.”

In reference to human rights John Paul II said “rights of the human spirit cannot be violated,” and added: “These are the rights of freedom of the human spirit, freedom of human conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of religion.”

He criticized both “liberal capitalism” and “Marxist collectivism” for distorting economic development. Hostile to Soviet communism, he was nonetheless wary of free-market capitalism, which absent ethics could lead to selfishness, materialism and hedonism.

John Paul II was a giant standing for human integrity, for every human person from the very beginning of life to its end. And notwithstanding his painful illnesses, the long-suffering pontiff, John Paul II – Karol Wojtyla, gave us perhaps his most powerful teaching: how to die with courage and dignity.

Ruben Arvizu is Director for Latin America of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

*The Japan Times, 04/04/05