The pontiff will travel to the East Asian nation next November, the second pope to do so after John Paul II, in 1981. According to some sources, he will pray for the 220,000 victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks. Local media are reporting he is also expected in Fukushima.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Catholics have called on Pope Francis to issue a statement against nuclear weapons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki during his apostolic visit next November.
Francis announced on Wednesday plans to visit the East Asian nation on the plane taking him to Panama for the 34th World Youth Day (WYD). He will be the second pope to visit Japan after John Paul II, in 1981.
According to some sources, Francis is expected to pray in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the victims of the 1945 nuclear attacks, which killed almost 220,000 people.
"I believe he will sympathise with the movement to abolish nuclear weapons," said Keiko Ichikawa, 77, one of Japan’s 450,000 Catholics. "I hope the pope’s visit will be an opportunity to encourage the movement."
During his visit to Japan in 1981, John Paul II went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Polish pope also celebrated a Mass in a baseball stadium in Tokyo before 35,000 people.
Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his desire to visit Japan. In his youth, he wanted to work in the country as a missionary, but a lung operation forced him to give it up.
According to local media, the pontiff is also considering a visit to Fukushima, the region hit by a tsunami in March 2011 triggered by an earthquake.
About 18,000 people died in that disaster. The waves caused by the earthquake also swept over the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing the meltdown of its reactors in what remains the most serious nuclear accident in the world after Chernobyl.
"We suffered a great deal in Fukushima,” said Sr Yuko Honma, 82-year-old nun, “I hope he (Francis) will have a chance to visit there too."