When Stephen Sidorak speaks about “A Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace to Japan on a Matter of Life and Death” his voice rings with passion, commitment and regret along with a yearning that nuclear weapons must never be used in anger again.
The World Council of Churches Commission of the Churches on International Affairs met in the Ecumenical Centre 7-11 March in Geneva. Sidorak spoke to participants about a pilgrimage he made to Japan 70 years after the atomic bombings.
Rev. Dr Stephen J. Sidorak, Jr is ecumenical staff officer for the Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the United Methodist Church in the United States.
He traces his own lengthy involvement in efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons to his time in parish ministry before the pilgrimage on the 70th anniversary of the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan in the closing days of the Second World War.
“A member of a local church I served recounted his duties during the Second World War which included flying the cover squadron escort missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” in August 1945 shortly after the bombings.
“He was the pilot of the plane assigned to document the destruction of the two Japanese cities,” said Sidorak elaborating on the only two instances of cities having atomic bombs dropped on them.
“The primary reason for our pilgrimage to Japan was to address our contemporary nuclear predicament both in terms of weaponry and energy,” explained Sidorak.
The world needs to move forward on this issue, he says.
The visit to Japan involved “visiting the wounds,” and visiting “locations of ugly violence and injustices.”
At least three locations came to mind as the pilgrims arrived in Japan - Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima (which was ravaged by a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011).
Many Christians today believe idolatry to be a thing of their pagan past.
Sidorak says, however, there is new idolatry “as we now worship the power we have to destroy creation much more than we worship the God of creation”.
“We bow down and worship weapons of mass destruction and the source of their power, nuclear energy,” he notes.
As Sidorak flew from the Land of the Rising Sun back to the United States in 2015, he reflected on the pilgrimage.
“What was done cannot be undone. However, the first victims of the atomic age on August 6 and August 9 seventy years ago, the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will not have died in vain, if nuclear weapons are never used again.”
At UN, anti-nuclear majorities challenge nuclear-dependent minority (WCC press release of 5 November 2015)
Church leaders to embark on pilgrimage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki seeking an end to nuclear threats (WCC press release of 27 July 2015)