Documentary: Protesting is an act of faith

by Scott Fina
Posted 1/26/23

“The Nuns, the Priests, and the Bombs” is scheduled to be shown Saturday, Jan. 28, at 1:30 pm in Saint Joseph’s Hall, followed by a discussion.

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Documentary: Protesting is an act of faith


Sunday marked the second anniversary of the implementation of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which prohibits the possession of all nuclear weapons and is now considered international law. Many Americans are not aware of this treaty, as no nation that actually possesses nuclear weapons has signed it, and the U.S. has dismissed it outright. 

But the Institute for Forgiveness & Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College hopes to change that – with a free viewing of a 2018 documentary about a small group of people who are working to raise awareness about what they believe to be an existential threat to humanity. The film, “The Nuns, the Priests, and the Bombs” is scheduled to be shown Saturday, Jan. 28, at 1:30 pm in Saint Joseph’s Hall, and will be followed by a discussion of the documentary.

The 87-minute film highlights the work of the Plowshares movement, a group of religious sisters, Catholic priests and laypeople who take a scriptural passage from the Book of Isaiah about “beating swords into plowshares” as a personal, prophetic calling. 

Plowshares activists enter military installations to conduct nonviolent, symbolic civil disobedience in protest of nuclear weaponry and its production. They typically cut through fences to highly secured areas where they hammer on missiles, hang banners calling for disarmament, and at times pour their own blood on buildings and pavement as a gesture representing the suffering such weapons can bring. Virtually all Plowshares activists experience imprisonment because of their civil disobedience.  

“The threat of nuclear warfare has been with us for decades and we now stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, refusing to remain silent and working to put an end to allowing these destructive weapons to define us as a people,” said Sister Catherine Nerney, the institute’s director. “To raise awareness of this evil by education and nonviolent protests, to refuse to hate by committing ourselves to love, and to resist the threat of death imposed on so many by nuclear weapons is our common resolve.”

“The Nuns, the Priests, and the Bombs” explores the lives, values, sacrifices and motivations of Plowshares movement members who have participated in two actions: one at a nuclear-armed Trident submarine base near Seattle; the second at a facility in Oakridge, Tenn., that stores enriched uranium and produces nuclear warhead parts. 

A question and answer session will follow the viewing of the documentary, which will include a Zoom panel with some of the activists who are depicted in the film. 

Helen Young, the Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist who wrote and directed the documentary, will also be part of the discussion panel. 

“The catalyst for the film was an Op Ed I read in the Wall Street Journal back in 2007 by the so-called "Four Horsemen:" George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger, both former U.S. Secretaries of State; William Perry, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense; and Sam Nunn, a former U.S. Senator from Georgia,” Young said. “These men were known as Cold War warriors because of their staunch support of nuclear weapons. However, in this article they argued that global security could best be safeguarded if we eliminated nuclear weapons. They urged the United States to take the lead in a movement to move the world away from the nuclear brink and work to abolish nuclear weapons. This article truly shocked me because it flew in the face of everything I had learned in graduate school and it sent me on a journey to understand why these former supporters of nuclear weapons had changed their minds.”

It took Young seven years to raise the necessary funds and make the film, she said, and she views it as the highlight of her career.

 “I believe the world owes [these activists] a debt of gratitude for their willingness to endure the great suffering of arrests and years of imprisonment…to wake us all up to the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons,” she said.