TOKYO (Agencies): Pope Francis described himself as a “missionary pilgrim,” when he finally arrived in Tokyo, Japan on November 23 and fulfilled a more than 50-year-old desire to share the gospel in Japan, CNS reported on November 24. Meeting with the bishops of Japan he outlined the major themes of has four-day stay: nuclear disarmament, the example of the Japanese martyrs, interreligious dialogue and special care for the young.
The pope told the bishops that “ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection” for Japan and that he entered the Jesuits hoping one day to be sent as a missionary to the country.
He observed that the history of the Japanese martyrs and of the hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) shows the strength and depth of Japanese Catholicism. Japan’s rulers began persecuting Christians in 1597 and Father Konishi Mansho, the last remaining priest in the country, was martyred in 1644. No priest set foot in the country for the next 200 years, though the hidden Christians continued to gather secretly, instruct one another in the faith, pray together and baptise new members.
“We know that the Church in Japan is small and Catholics are in a minority, but this must not diminish your commitment to evangelisation. In your particular situation, the strongest and clearest word you can speak is that of a humble, daily witness and openness to dialogue with other religious traditions,” UCANews reported Pope Francis as exhorting the bishops.
“The hospitality and care you show to the many foreign workers, who represent more than half of Japan’s Catholics, not only serve as a witness to the gospel within Japanese society but also attest to the universality of the Church,” the pope told them, adding, “You are a living Church that has been preserved by invoking the Lord’s name and contemplating how he guided you through the midst of persecution.”
Japan’s bishops chose Protect all life as the theme of the papal visit which, he said, means seeing and loving each life as a gift.
“Protecting all life and proclaiming the gospel are not separate or opposed; rather, each appeals to and requires the other,” the pope said.
In welcoming the pope, CNS reported that Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, president of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference, told him, “Japan, the only country where atomic bombs have been dropped in war, cries out that such a disaster should not be repeated. We hope that you will appeal to the world that humanity does not need nuclear weapons.”
Visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima on November 24, Pope Francis stopped at the Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park in Nagasaki first, where he called for sustained efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons UCANews reported. He called the arms race a waste of “precious resources” in a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, pointing out that the money used to manufacture, upgrade, maintain and sell destructive weapons is “an affront crying out to heaven.”
The pope said, “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral. We will be judged on this.”
Pope Francis recalled a damaged cross and a statue of Our Lady, recently discovered in the Cathedral of Nagasaki, saying they “remind us once more of the unspeakable horror suffered in the flesh by the victims of the bombing and their families.”
The pope said, “Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.”
UCANews reported that he called on all sectors of society—individuals, religious communities, civil society, countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not, the military and private sectors, and international organisations—to be involved in creating a world free from nuclear weapons.
Pope Francis said the Catholic Church is “irrevocably committed to promoting peace” and supports international efforts towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.
The pope then paid a visit to the Martyrs Monument on Nishizaka Hill where 26 Christians, including St. Paul Miki, were martyred on 5 February 1597. He told those gathered that the place spoke of more than death. “It also speaks of the triumph of life over death,” Vatican News reported him as saying.
Pope Francis said that the witness of the martyrs “confirms us in faith and helps us to renew our dedication and commitment to missionary discipleship which strives to create a culture capable of protecting and defending all life through the daily ‘martyrdom’ of silent service towards all, especially those in greatest need.”
The pope said, “In this place we are united with those Christians throughout the world who, in our own day, suffer martyrdom for the faith.”
He later celebrated Mass with around 35,000 people in attendance at Nagasaki’s baseball stadium. “This land has experienced, as few countries have, the destructive power of which we humans are capable,” the pope said in his homily.
At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Vatican News reported the pope as saying he came as “a pilgrim of peace,” bringing with him “the cry of the poor who are always the most helpless victims of hatred and conflict,” adding that he wanted to be “the voice of the voiceless, who witnesses with concern and anguish the growing tensions of our own time: the unacceptable inequalities and injustices that threaten human coexistence, the grave inability to care for our common home and the constant outbreak of armed conflict, as if these could guarantee a future of peace.”
The pope said, “If we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands.” He added that present and future generation could not be allowed to forget what happened, that all are called to journey together with understanding and forgiveness noting, “This will always be possible if we are able to protect one another and realise that we are joined by a common destiny.”
In Tokyo the next day, November 25, Pope Francis met with some of the victims of what is called the Triple Distaster—the earthquake, tsunami and reactor meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011.
At the meeting, organised by Caritas Japan, the pope observed, “Our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress.” CNS reported that he said humanity needs a different priority for its survival, “a different vision, one that fosters reverence for the gift of life and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the one multiethnic and multicultural human family.”
He said there is a need “to find a new path for the future, a path rooted in respect for each person and for the natural world.”
Following a private meeting with Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace, Pope Francis met with young people at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Three of them: a Catholic, a Buddhist, and a migrant gave their personal testimonies and voiced their fears and aspirations.
The pope exhorted all present not to be afraid as fear is the enemy of goodness, love and peace. He reminded them the Jesus always told his followers not to fear and that God’s love casts out all fear.
“The world needs you, never forget that!” Vatican News reported him as saying, adding that while we can always look at what we don’t have, we must see all the life that we can give and share with others.
“The Lord needs you, so that you can encourage all those people around us who are looking for a helping hand to lift them up,” the pope said.
“Never lose heart or set aside your dreams. Give them plenty of room, dare to glimpse vast horizons and see what awaits you if you aspire to achieve them together,” he told the young people.
Later, celebrating Mass at the huge Tokyo Dome with around 50,000 people in attendance, Pope Francis reiterated that consumerism and love of wealth can become obstacles to leading a Christian life. He cautioned against focusing “all our attention and energy on the frenetic pursuit of productivity and consumerism as the sole criterion for measuring and validating our choices, or defining who we are or what we are worth,” warning that it can make us insensitive to what it truly important.
“Worldly attitudes that look only to one’s own profit or gain in this world, … in reality leave us profoundly unhappy and enslaved, and hinder the authentic development of a truly harmonious and humane society,” he said.
Pope Francis said that the proclamation of the Gospel of Life urgently requires that we as a community become a field hospital, ready to heal wounds and to always offer a path of reconciliation and forgiveness, Vatican News reported.