Italian Catholic groups and NGOs have called on the country’s Prime Minister to explain why the arms industry has been allowed to continue on producing amid the coronavirus shutdown.

– “Free from oppression, exploitation and violence”

The School of Civil Economy, Ethical Bank, Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi, the Italian Focolare Movement, and Mosaic of Peace released a joint statement March 24 appealing to PM Giuseppe Conte to clarify why weapons are still being made while the rest of the country’s economy has ground to a halt.

Italy has been in a situation of strict coronavirus quarantine since March 21, with the containment measures including the temporary closure of all non-essential business and industries in the country.

It was no accident that the organisations released their call to the Premier March 24.

That was the feast day and fortieth anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Óscar Romero, the Salvadorean bishop assassinated by a far-right death squad in 1980 and “who gave his life to free his people from oppression, exploitation and violence”, as the groups recalled.

Romero’s example “is why the Church proclaims March 24 as the day of the martyred missionaries“, the petitioners to Conte explained.

“These are witnesses who believed in the force of nonviolence to change the conditions of peoples and communities.

“This is the model that is offered to us to help prepare a world as God has dreamed it for us”.

– Civil companies are assuming the “very large sacrifice”… why not defence ones too?

With regard to the current coronavirus lockdown in Italy, the Catholic peace groups and NGOs said the stringent prevention measures call “for a very large sacrifice not only by citizens and families, but also by companies”.

“The companies of the civil economy adhere very seriously to the halt of their activities and are taking every step to be able to safeguard the health of workers and citizens”, the groups said.

But despite that “widespread and painful commitment” of civil companies, as well as the “economic cost that many companies will have to pay in the coming months”, “the uncivilised arms industry can… continue to work even at this dramatic time”, the petitioners to PM Conte denounced.

– “With the money for a single F35 to carry nuclear bombs how many respirators could be purchased?”

The Catholic and other groups deplored, particularly, that the government’s COVID-19 policies state that “aerospace and defense industry activities are allowed, as well as other activities of strategic importance for the national economy, subject to authorization by the Prefect of the province where the production activities are located”.

“This seems to us a bad sign, which we strongly denounce”, the organisations said.

“In particular, the production of the F35 will continue in Cameri”, in the Novara province, the groups continued.

“An airplane that can also carry nuclear bombs. Why keep going in this direction? What interests are behind this project? With the money of a single F35 (about 150 million euros) how many respirators could be purchased?

“We know of some industries that are attempting to at least partially convert their production [to that of healthcare equipment]. This is the way to go”, the peace groups insisted to PM Conte.

– “While we ask citizens to live in uncertainty, we allow arms factories to continue working unabated”

“While we praise and support the work of doctors and nurses, while we ask for help from other countries that are supporting us by sending doctors, medical protection products, specialists, while we ask citizens to live in uncertainty and apprehension about the their own work, we allow arms factories to continue working unabated”, the groups continued on.

The organisations concluded by making the following three demands:

  • That Conte “explain why, at such a delicate moment in Italian history, the production of weapons is allowed”
  • That “all Italian parliamentarians who have shown attention to the issues of the civil economy… make their voices heard” on the issue of arms production during the coronavirus lockdown
  • That “the prefects and mayors of the municipalities involved in the production of weapons protect the right to health of workers and their families”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.