In a meeting in Rome with a visiting Japanese delegation on Sept. 12, Pope Francis announced plans to visit Japan next year. "Since you are here, I would like to announce my intention to visit Japan next year. I hope I am able to fulfil this wish," Pope Francis told members of the Tensho Kenoh Shisetsu Kenshoukai Association. "Thanks again for your visit," the pope said, telling the visitors to "take back to your wonderful people and your great country the friendship of the Pope of Rome and the esteem of the whole Catholic Church." Members of the association were there with Fathers Renzo De Luca
and Shinzo Kawamura. Father De Luca is the Argentinean-born Jesuit provincial of Japan and was a student when Pope Francis was rector of the theologate outside Buenos Aires in their native Argentina.* It is well known that Pope Francis had hoped to be a missionary in Japan after joining the Society of Jesus and becoming a priest. But his superiors believed he did not have the required good health to do so. The pope talked about how 400 years ago, in 1585, four young Japanese arrived in Rome, accompanied by some Jesuit missionaries, to visit Pope Gregory XIII. "It was an extraordinary journey, as it was the first time that a group of representatives of your great country came to Europe," the pope said. "[The] Europeans encountered the Japanese and the Japanese encountered Europe and the heart of the Catholic Church," he said. "A historic meeting between two great cultures and spiritual traditions, of which it is right to preserve the memory, as does your association." The four young people of the Tensho era
did so with commitment and courage, the pope said. "In particular, I want to remember their leader Mancio Ito, who became a priest, and Julian Nakaura, who like many others suffered martyrdom in Nagasaki and proclaimed blessed," he added. "The journey of your young predecessors lasted more than eight years; there were no planes at that time. Yours is shorter and less tiring. But I hope you feel welcomed by the pope as they were and that, like them, you will savor the joy of this meeting and be encouraged to return to your country as ambassadors of friendship and promoters of the great human and Christian values," Pope Francis said. He also encouraged members of the association, which promotes culture and solidarity projects, "to set up an aid fund for the training of young people and orphans, thanks to the contribution of companies that are sensitive to their problems." "You want to show that religion, culture and the economic world can work together peacefully to create a more humane world characterized by an integral ecology. This is fully in accordance with what I also wish for humanity today and tomorrow, as I wrote in the encyclical letter Laudato si'
. It is the right path for the future of our common home," the pope said. Pope St. John Paul II
is the only pope ever to visit Japan. His visit to the country on Feb. 23-26, 1981, was part of a longer trip that included visits to Pakistan, the Philippines, Guam and the U.S. state of Alaska. *This sentence has been updated and corrected.