With Pope Francis expressing his intention to visit Japan next year, hopes are high among Hiroshima and Nagasaki residents and A-bomb survivors’ groups that he may come to their cities.

The Vatican has already ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the pope’s visit to the A-bombed cities could provide a lift to the campaign for nuclear weapon states and Japan to ratify the treaty and help speed the abolition of nuclear arms.

To get the pope to visit, some people are saying louder pleas from citizens are needed.

Hirotaka Matsushima, head of the Hiroshima Municipal Government’s Peace Promotion Division, welcomed the pope’s announcement last month that he hopes to visit Japan next year.

“This is great news,” he said. “I hope that the pope will send out a message for peace from the A-bombed city.”

The Hiroshima Prefectural and Municipal governments began stepping up their efforts to get Francis to visit after Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states — a title that corresponds with the position of foreign minister — traveled to Hiroshima in January 2017.

At that time, Gallagher suggested there was a possibility that the pontiff might visit the city. Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui made separate trips to the Vatican last year and issued invitations to the pontiff in person.

Their hopes are tied to the enormous influence that the Roman Catholic Church has around the world, with 1.23 billion members.

During his visit to Hiroshima in 1981, the late John Paul II read out the “Appeal for Peace” in nine languages, with 25,000 looking on, in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. His address generated a significant response.

The municipal government is also taking note of the pope’s appeal. The pontiff is from Argentina, a signatory to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

When talks began at the United Nations to establish a global treaty to outlaw nuclear arms, the pope issued a statement of support.

And when the nuclear weapons ban treaty opened for signatures and ratifications on Sept. 20 last year, the Vatican responded on the first day.

The pope rejects the idea of nuclear deterrence — which nuclear nations and countries under their nuclear umbrella cite as a reason for their opposition to the treaty — from the point of view of the inhumane consequences these weapons cause. He argues that protecting one’s nation through threats of nuclear retaliation creates “a false sense of security.”

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 76, chairman of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations and a resident of Kitahiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, said, “I would like the pope to call on the countries that haven’t joined the treaty to ratify it.”

The treaty will enter into force after at least 50 nations have ratified it, and 15 countries had done so as of Sept. 20 this year.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, who is working together with Hiroshima leaders to realize the pope’s visit, believes that Francis is “a vital presence supporting the need for the nuclear weapons ban treaty.”

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also requested that the pope visit Japan in order to boost momentum for nuclear disarmament.

However, the government has clearly stated that it does not intend to sign or ratify the treaty.

Last March, the Episcopal Commission for Social Issues of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Japan (CBCJ) sent a letter to the government, including a quote from Pope Francis, asking that it sign and ratify the treaty. There appears to be no change, though, in the government’s policy.

For this reason, some are suspicious of the government’s true intentions regarding the pope’s visit.

Haruko Moritaki, 79, co-chairwoman of the citizens’ group Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA), voiced her concern by saying, “The Japanese government may want to take advantage of the pope’s visit by giving the impression that they are making serious efforts for nuclear disarmament, seeking to gloss over their policy of refusing to join the treaty.”

She also said that “the important thing is to enhance the welcome by Hiroshima citizens for the pope, who has made contributions to the creation of the nuclear weapons ban treaty and will, in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, send out a message to the world to press ahead with the nuclear treaty.”

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published Sept. 24.

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