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Pope Francis Visits Japan, Delivers Anti-Nuclear Message

Pope Francis Visits Japan, Delivers Anti-Nuclear Message

Saturday, 23 November, 2019 - 12:45
Pope Francis disembarks from his plane upon arrival at Haneda international airport in Tokyo on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Pope Francis on Saturday issued a call for nuclear disarmament as he arrived on a long-awaited trip to Japan, which will take in visits to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, targets of the "catastrophic" atomic bomb.


Shortly after touching down in Japan, the 82-year-old Argentine turned straight to the "tragic episode in human history" at the end of World War II, which killed at least 74,000 in Nagasaki and 140,000 in Hiroshima.


"I will soon visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where I will offer prayers for the victims of the catastrophic bombing of these two cities, and echo your own prophetic calls for nuclear disarmament," Francis told bishops in a welcoming ceremony.


With his four-day trip -- the second leg of an Asian tour that also included Thailand -- the pontiff said he was fulfilling a long-held ambition to preach in Japan.


"I don't know if you are aware of this, but ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands. Many years have passed since that missionary impulse, whose realization has been long in coming," said Francis.


The head of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics arrived late Saturday in Tokyo, with the white cape of his papal outfit whipped up by high winds as he gingerly descended the plane steps in heavy rain.


The first leg of his trip took him to Thailand, where he delivered a message of religious tolerance and peace.


He is expected to do the same in Japan, a country with only approximately 440,000 Catholics out of a population of 126 million.


The majority of Japanese practice a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, two closely intertwined faiths based on the worship of nature and spirits, but many in Japan also observe Christian festivals such as Christmas.


The pontiff will pay tribute to the community while in Nagasaki and also visit Hiroshima to deliver remarks at the world-famous peace memorial that marks the day on August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped.


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