Pope Francis to begin 4-day Japan trip, set to visit A-bombed cities

Priests, religious seminarians and Catechists touch the hands of Pope Francis as he leaves after meeting them at Saint Peter's Parish on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 22, 2019. P (AP Photo/Manish Swarup). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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TOKYO, Nov 23, 2019, Kyodo. Pope Francis will begin a four-day trip to Japan on Saturday, set to visit the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the following day and call on the world to abolish nuclear weapons, The Mainichi reported.

The pope is scheduled to arrive at Tokyo’s Haneda airport by special plane in the evening, becoming the first pontiff to travel to the country in 38 years.

The following morning, the pope will travel to Nagasaki and deliver a “message on nuclear weapons” at the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park. Then he is to hold a mass at a baseball stadium in the southwestern Japan city.

The pope will move to Hiroshima in the evening and hold a “meeting for peace” at the Peace Memorial Park near Ground Zero, where the western Japan city’s anniversary ceremony for the atomic attack takes place every August.

The 82-year-old Argentine has repeatedly appealed for the abolition of nuclear weapons since he was elected as Roman Catholic pontiff in 2013.

After delivering messages on nuclear weapons in the two cities, the pope is due to return to the capital, meeting on Monday with survivors of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March 2011.

Later the same day, the pope will also see Emperor Naruhito, who ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Just before meeting Abe, the pope will hold a large-scale mass at Tokyo Dome, to which he has invited Iwao Hakamada, an 83-year-old man who was sentenced to death for a quadruple murder but granted a retrial and release in 2014 under a district court ruling following 48 years of detention.

The Vatican has said the pope has no plan to meet with Hakamada, but attention is focused on whether a meeting will take place and if the pope will issue some form of message to Japan on its death penalty system.

Pope John Paul II, the last pope to visit Japan, also went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in February 1981 as the first pontiff to travel to the country and called for the elimination of nuclear arms.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become pope. Saint Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, first introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549.

Prior to Japan, the pope visited Thailand and met with King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the supreme Buddhist patriarch during his stay from Wednesday through Saturday.

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