Japanese Catholics urge Pope to send anti-nuclear message when he visits


Japanese Catholics are asking Pope Francis to send an anti-nuclear message from Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he travels to the country this year.

The Argentine pontiff said this month he will come to Japan in November for what will be the first papal visit since John Paul II traveled here nearly 40 years ago.

During his stay, Francis reportedly plans to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to pray for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombings, which killed some 220,000 people.

“I believe he will have sympathy for the movement to abolish nuclear arms,” Keiko Ichikawa, 77, said after attending Mass recently. “I hope the pope’s visit will be an opportunity to encourage the movement.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced a desire to visit Japan, which is home to an estimated 450,000 Roman Catholics, and wanted to work as a missionary here in his youth but abandoned the plan after a lung operation.

In January of last year, Francis issued a harrowing photograph taken in 1945 showing a young Japanese boy carrying his dead brother. The child on the boy’s back was killed when the United States A-bombed Nagasaki.

Francis, who has often spoken of the dangers of nuclear weapons, had written just four words on the back of the image: “The fruit of war.”

According to reports from local media outlets, there is a possibility that the pope will also visit the Tohoku region, which in 2011 suffered massive damage in the deadly Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that also triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The disasters left around 18,000 people in the Tohoku region dead.

“We have great suffering in Fukushima due to the nuclear reactor accident,” said Yuko Honma, a 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun. “I hope he will have a chance to visit there too” and encourage the victims.

Authorities have been working to rebuild the region, although areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant remain uninhabitable because of high radiation.

During his trip to Japan in 1981, John Paul II visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also celebrated Mass at the old Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo for some 35,000 people.