Meeting survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, which triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, visiting Pope Francis urged caution in Tokyo on Monday regarding decisions that could affect future generations, particularly concerning the use of energy.
The pope did not directly call for the abolition of nuclear power plants, but he did note that Japanese bishops have called for the “immediate abolition” of such plants since the triple meltdowns in Fukushima.
“Our age is tempted to make technological progress the measure of human progress,” he said. “So it is important to pause and reflect on who we are … and who we want to be.
“Important decisions will have to be made about the use of natural resources, and future energy sources in particular,” he stressed.
The pontiff, who arrived Saturday on a four-day tour in what is the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years, listened to kindergarten teacher Toshito Kato, Buddhist priest Tokuun Tanaka and Matsuki Kamoshita, who was eight years old when she and her family were evacuated to Tokyo following the Fukushima disaster. All three are survivors of the 2011 disasters.
A massive amount of radioactive materials leaked from the crippled Fukushima plant and contaminated vast areas around the plant, and to this day about 42,000 Fukushima Prefecture residents are still displaced from their hometowns.
The debate on nuclear plants still continues in Japan eight years after the Fukushima incident. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promoted the reactivation of dozens of commercial nuclear plants that were suspended after the accident. His government argues that it has implemented strict safety regulations, and that reactivation is necessary for Japan — which has few domestic energy sources.
On Monday the pope also met about 900 young people who gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Bunkyo Ward in the capital.
At the cathedral, three from the group told the top Catholic leader about issues they were facing. Leonardo Cachuela, a Filipino immigrant who moved to Japan when he was in his fourth year of elementary school, told the pope that he had experienced harsh bullying and discrimination. One boy kept calling him a “no-good foreigner,” and “fatso” at school, Cachuela said. “When I thought others were talking behind my back, I was increasingly troubled. I felt like my mere existence was being denied,” he said.
In response, Francis first emphasized that those who bully others “are the truly weak ones.”
“Deep down, bullies are afraid, and they cover their fear by a show of strength,” he said. “We must all unite against this culture of bullying and learn to say ‘Enough!'” Francis said, adding that actions by adults or educational institutions alone are not enough.
The pope also emphasized the importance of diversity among people. “We can contemplate … all the variety and diversity of what each individual person has to offer,” he said.
The selection of Cachuela is thought to have been a reflection of the recent increase of non-Japanese Catholics in Japan.
While the number of Japanese Catholic believers are slightly decreasing in many areas in Japan, due to the graying and shrinking population, the presence of non-Japanese Catholics are increasing as the country introduces more workers from other Asian countries such as Vietnam, said Toshihiro Sakai, auxiliary bishop of the Osaka Archdiocese.
Pope Francis is known for his friendly and approachable character as a top Catholic leader. While reading a prepared speech at the Tokyo church, he repeatedly deviated from the text and spoke through a Japanese-language translator, in an apparent effort to keep the attention of the young audience.
“I just told Leonardo, ‘If you are told you are fat, you should say being thin makes you look just unhealthy,'” the pope jokingly said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Also Monday morning the pope met Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
During the 20-minute meeting, the emperor thanked the pope for visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima and for meeting the victims of the 3/11 disasters, Kyodo News quoted Imperial Household Agency officials as saying.
Later the day, Francis traveled to the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome to celebrate Mass.
The baseball stadium, with its arena also covered with additional chairs, was packed full with Catholic adherents.
Pope Francis plans to leave Japan on Tuesday morning, after celebrating a private Mass and meetings at Sophia University in Tokyo.
The university was established in 1913 by Jesuit priests. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope in history.