Pope Francis is to visit Japan in November — and Japanese bishops are hoping he will take the chance to speak out against nuclear weapons.
The pope, who spoke last September about his intention to visit Japan, confirmed his visit on a plane taking him to the World Youth Day gathering in Panama on Jan. 23.
“The pope will come to Japan in the second half of November and will visit Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Cardinal Manyo Maeda of Osaka told ucanews.com on Jan. 24.
Cardinal Maeda is from Nagasaki and was bishop of Hiroshima from 2011-14. Both cities were devastated by nuclear bombs in World War II.
“I met the pope in the Vatican in December and said I felt strongly that I wanted him to speak in Japan against nuclear weapons. The pope said that not only the use of nuclear weapons but even making them is unethical,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Maeda and the archbishops of Tokyo and Nagasaki met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Dec. 17.
Emperor Akihito of Japan will abdicate on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito will become the new emperor on May 1. In mid-November, the Daijosai, the final ceremony of enthronement, will be held. It is controversial because, unlike the previous two ceremonies, it will be explicitly religious in nature.
Cardinal Maeda said he believes the pope will visit Japan after that ceremony.
“I hope the pope’s visit becomes a new source of energy as an important driving force of missionary activity, and I look forward to his message to the whole world that there is nothing good in war,” he said.
Pope Francis is visiting Panama from Jan. 23-27 and told journalists on his flight: “I will go to Japan in November. Get ready!”
He also told journalists that while there are no immediate plans to travel to Iraq, he hopes to visit one day.
“I want to go, I told them that I wanted to go, but they were the ones who told me, ‘Not right now, it isn’t safe,'” the pope said. “But I do want to go and I am following the situation closely.”
In a meeting in Rome with a visiting Japanese delegation last September, Pope Francis spoke of his wish to visit Japan.
“Since you are here, I would like to announce my intention to visit Japan next year. I hope I am able to fulfil this wish,” he told members of the Tensho Kenoh Shisetsu Kenshoukai Association.
“Thanks again for your visit,” the pope said, telling the visitors to “take back to your wonderful people and your great country the friendship of the pope of Rome and the esteem of the whole Catholic Church.”
Members of the association were there with Fathers Renzo De Luca and Shinzo Kawamura.
Father De Luca is the Argentine-born Jesuit provincial of Japan and was a student when Pope Francis was rector of the theologate outside Buenos Aires in their native Argentina.
It is well known that Francis had hoped to be a missionary in Japan after joining the Society of Jesus and becoming a priest. But his superiors believed he did not have the required good health to do so.
The pope talked about how 400 years ago, in 1585, four young Japanese arrived in Rome, accompanied by some Jesuit missionaries, to visit Pope Gregory XIII.
“It was an extraordinary journey, as it was the first time that a group of representatives of your great country came to Europe,” the pope said.
Pope St. John Paul II is the only pope ever to visit Japan. His visit on Feb. 23-26, 1981, was part of a longer trip that included visits to Pakistan, the Philippines, Guam and the U.S. state of Alaska.