Pope Francis receives flowers as he leaves Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Nov. 26. (Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP)
Pope Francis ended his fourth trip to Asia today in a very personal way by spending the morning with fellow Jesuits before boarding a flight back to Rome.
When he lands in Italy after his busy apostolic journey to Thailand and Japan, he will have flown more than 25,400 kilometers in a week and spent 34 hours on board aircraft.
The pope celebrated morning Mass in the Chapel of Kulturzentrum of the Jesuit-run Sophia University and visited retired and sick priests before delivering a speech on Jesuit education in the final event of his week-long Asia pilgrimage.
As a young Jesuit in Argentina, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio had dreamed of following in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier, who introduced Christianity to Japan in the 16th century.
He was prevented from doing so because of poor health but he joked with Japanese bishops on arriving in Tokyo on Nov. 23 that he got his “revenge” when he was in charge of the order in Buenos Aires and sent five Argentine priests to Japan as missionaries.
One of those Argentine priests is now the head of the Jesuits in Japan, Father Renzo De Luca, who served as Francis’ interpreter for the trip.
Father De Luca has said his former seminary rector was someone who was close to his students, always available to help them.
“Even in that time, it was easy to find him: He’d sit with us, cooked with us. Every so often he cooked for us,” Father De Luca told Vatican Media. “He was someone very close to us. He never wanted to be anyone important or hard to get a hold of.”
Sophia is a prestigious private university that caters to the wealthy, like many of the Catholic schools in Japan.
The pope met his long-time friend Adolfo Nicolas, an 83-year-old former superior general of the Jesuits who had taught theology for three decades.
“In a society as competitive and technologically oriented as present-day Japan, this university should be a center not only of intellectual formation but also a place where a better society and a more hope-filled future can take shape,” Pope Francis told teachers and students.
“My stay in this country has been short and very intense, but I would like to thank God and all of you for the opportunity to visit this country which St. Francis Xavier so greatly desired to know, and where so many martyrs bore witness to their Christian faith.
“Despite the fact that Christians are a minority, their presence is felt. I myself have witnessed the general esteem in which the Catholic Church is held, and I hope that this mutual respect may increase in the future. I would also observe that, for all the efficiency and order that mark Japanese society, I have sensed a yearning, too, for something greater: a profound desire to create an ever more humane, compassionate and merciful society.”
Pope Francis said Sophia University’s Christian and humanistic tradition is compatible with “walking with the poor and the outcasts of our world.”
Marginalized individuals should be incorporated into the life and curriculum of the university, he said. “Quality university education should not be the privilege of a few but constantly informed by the effort to serve justice and the common good,” the pope added.