In addition to Tokyo, he will follow his predecessor St. Pope John Paul II in visiting the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where he will give speeches at the sites of the 1946 atomic bombings. He is expected to speak against nuclear weapons and the arms trade.
The pope will also meet with victims of Japan’s 2011 “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
At his meeting with bishops, which took place immediately after his arrival in Tokyo, Francis recalled the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, whose arrival in Japan 470 years ago “marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in this land.”
“In his memory, I want to join you in thanking the Lord for all those who, over the centuries, have dedicated themselves to implanting the Gospel and serving the Japanese people with great tenderness and love,” he said.
The pope also pointed to the examples of the martyrs St. Paul Miki and his companions and Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, a 17th-century Catholic Samurai and martyr.
“Such self-sacrifice for the sake of keeping the faith alive amid persecution helped the small Christian community to develop, grow strong and bear fruit,” he stated, also praising Nagasaki’s “hidden Christians,” who kept the faith alive for around 200 years through their personal commitment to catechesis, prayer, and baptism.
The “DNA” of the Catholic community in Japan is marked by these witnesses, he said.
Catholics make up just .5 % of the population in the largely secular country. Around half of these Catholics are foreign nationals recently let into the country as temporary workers in unskilled jobs.
The Church’s small size “must not diminish your commitment to evangelization,” he urged the bishops. “The starting point for every apostolate is the concrete place in which people find themselves, with their daily routines and occupations, not in artificial places.”
“It is there that we must reach the souls of our cities, workplaces and universities, in order to accompany the faithful entrusted to us with the Gospel of compassion and mercy.”