Pope Francis Concludes Historic Trek Through Asia

Tags: Currents Faith, Pope Francis, World News

By Inés San Martín

TOKYO (Crux) — Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Pope Francis visited Japan Nov. 23-26 as a “pilgrim of peace.”

The Holy Father visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki to deliver a message against nuclear weapons, calling them “immoral” and urging nations to get rid of them.

That money is “squandered” and fortunes are made through the “manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale” of weapons of mass destruction as millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions represents “an affront crying out to heaven,” Pope Francis said in Nagasaki on Nov. 24.

“Here in this city, which witnessed the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear attack, our attempts to speak out against the arms race will never be enough,” Pope Francis said.

The pontiff argued that “the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation” amounts to defending stability and peace through a “false sense of security” sustained by a mentality “that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.”

He doubled down in his condemnation on the deployment and possessions of weapons of mass destruction later in the day, during an interreligious prayer for peace in Hiroshima, the first city in history to be attacked by a nuclear bomb.

“How can we propose peace if we constantly invoke the threat of nuclear war as a legitimate recourse for the resolution of conflicts?” Pope Francis asked. “May the abyss of pain endured here remind us of boundaries that must never be crossed.

“On behalf of all the victims of atomic bombings and experiments, and of all conflicts, let us cry out together: Never again war, never again the clash of arms, never again so much suffering! May peace come in our time and to our world.”

On Nov. 25, Pope Francis visited Tokyo. According to officials from the Tokyo Imperial Palace, the pontiff told Japanese Emperor Naruhito that he remembers seeing his parents cry over the news of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 74 years ago. Pope Francis also reportedly said that when he addressed survivors of the atomic bombings in both cities this week, he recalled his parents’ sorrow.

The pope officially opened his visit to Japan with a meeting with the local bishops. He called himself a “missionary pilgrim” who is following the steps of St. Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuits who arrived in Japan 470 years ago, marking the beginning of the spread of Christianity in the country. Soon after that, Catholicism was banned, and thousands were killed when they refused to renounce their Catholic faith. The pope honored their sacrifice during a visit to Nagasaki’s monument to the martyrs.

Also on the agenda in Japan were two issues close to the pope’s heart: the need to protect the environment and to “protect all life.”

In Tokyo, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for 50,000 people. Earlier that day, he met with young people and with government officials and cultural leaders. He shared his concern about the high rates of suicide in Japan and about the enormous pressure the culture places on young people to succeed.

Pope Francis’ visit to Japan came following a Nov. 20-23 visit to Bangkok, Thailand, where he tried to provide a boost for the country’s community of fewer than 400,000 Catholics.

In Thailand, Pope Francis addressed priests and religious men and women at St. Peter’s Parish of Wat Roman, a small Catholic enclave on the outskirts of Bangkok. Pope Francis urged the clergy and religious not to fear being few in number and to further include Thai culture in preaching the Gospel so that Catholicism isn’t seen as a religion for foreigners.

Pope Francis urged them to allow others to see the beauty of “the gaze [of Christ] that captivates because it is able to penetrate appearances to find and celebrate the authentic beauty present in every person.”

“It is a gaze that, as the Gospel teaches us, shatters all determinism, fatalism and standards,” Pope Francis said. He noted that in the Gospels where many saw a sinner, a blasphemer, a tax collector, an evildoer or even a traitor, “Jesus was able to see apostles.”

On Nov. 21, Pope Francis spoke to 60,000 Thai Catholics at a Mass, calling them to be missionary disciples, explaining that being a “mercenary of the faith” doesn’t compel others to convert.

“A missionary disciple is not a mercenary of the faith or a producer of proselytes, but rather a humble mendicant who feels the absence of brothers, sisters and mothers with whom to share the irrevocable gift of reconciliation that Jesus grants to all,” he said.

Beyond his call for Catholics to evangelize and remain strong in their faith, Pope Francis began his visit by condemning the exploitation of women and children and urging a welcoming stance to migrants, many of whom hail from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and arrive fleeing persecution only to find themselves prey to human trafficking.

During his first speech in Thailand, which was made to civil authorities, Pope Francis said he thinks of “all those women and children of our time, especially those who are wounded, violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.”

Forced prostitution, including children, is one of the consequences of Thailand’s sex tourism industry. The industry represents an estimated three percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Pope Francis repeated that message a day later, when during his homily at Mass, he said the women and children who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking are “humiliated in their essential human dignity.”