WITH PRAYER AND FASTING, RELIGIOUS LEADERS PUSH FOR ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

By

NEW YORK

A group of prominent religious leaders began a fast last week for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Led by William Coffin, a former pastor at New York's Riverside Church, the group vowed to continue the fast until an international governmental conference reviewing the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ends on May 12.

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After holding a press conference on April 24 at the United Nations headquarters here, the protesters crossed the street to begin their vigil at the Isaiah Wall, where the words from Isaiah ''beating swords into ploughshares'' are inscribed.

Robert Brown, a former professor at Union Seminary in New York, says the protesters want the UN conference to consider abolishing nuclear weapons, rather than merely taking steps toward disarmament through the proposed indefinite extension of the treaty.

Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official who leaked the ''Pentagon papers,'' first proposed the fast. Also taking part in the vigil were Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal Church in the United States, who made a pilgrimage to Hiroshima; Thomas Gumbleton, Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of Detroit and former president of Pax Christi USA; and Miyoko Matsubare, representing a Hiroshima survivor group, Hibakusha. Ms. Matsubare described the loss of members of her family as well as her own injuries.

Bishop Browning says he made a pilgrimage to Hiroshima when he was bishop of Hawaii. During a year of prayer, he had come to believe that "nuclear weapons are incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Mr. Coffin, who was a leader of the antinuclear SANE/Freeze organization from 1987 to 1990, says the issue of nuclear weapons has been ''totally marginalized'' since 1990, and that ''most Americans haven't a clue what NPT stands for.'' He expressed some hope of raising concern by the fast, but added, ''We have no illusions.''

Janet Bloomfield, of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, says she will promote the fast when she returns to the United Kingdom. Fasts are also being organized in Budapest, Paris, and elsewhere.

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