Pope holds historic meeting with Japanese emperor

On a busy final day in Japan, PM Shinzo Abe backs the pope's call for a world free of nuclear weapons
Pope holds historic meeting with Japanese emperor

Pope Francis meets with Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Nov. 25. (Photo: Ciro Fusco/AFP)

Pope Francis has revealed more about his lifelong passion for Japan, telling Emperor Naruhito how much his parents cried when he was nine years old in 1945 when they learned about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when more than 100,000 people were instantly killed.

Japan has long been something of an obsession with the pontiff, who was preparing to go to Japan from his native Argentina as a young Jesuit in his 20s when he was diagnosed with a lung ailment that put an end to his planned missionary work. The Jesuits were the first Catholic order to go to Japan as missionaries in the 16th century.

It was the recently installed Japanese emperor’s second meeting with a pope after visiting Pope John Paul II in 1984 at the Vatican when he was crown prince.

During the Nov. 25 meeting, they also discussed the natural environment, which the pope said was related to the economy, one of the constant themes of both his papacy and his trip to Japan.

The information about the historic meeting was gained by Japanese journalists with connections to the imperial household and relayed to visiting media.

“I am grateful in a special way to Emperor Naruhito for having received me this morning. I offer him my good wishes and I invoke God’s blessings on the Imperial Family and all the Japanese people at the beginning of the new era inaugurated by his reign.” Pope Francis said.

On a busy final full day in Japan, the pope had a private audience with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who recently became Japan’s longest-serving post-war leader. Abe had been pushing for such a visit since the pope’s election in March 2013.

“The friendly relations existing between the Holy See and Japan are long-standing and rooted in the appreciation and admiration felt by the first missionaries for these lands. We have only to recall the words of the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who in 1579 wrote: ‘Whoever wishes to see what our Lord has bestowed upon man need only come to Japan to see it,’” Pope Francis said.

“Historically, many contacts and cultural and diplomatic missions have fostered this relationship and helped to surmount moments of tension and trouble. These contacts have gradually taken on institutional form, for the benefit of both parties.

“I have come to confirm Japanese Catholics in their faith, their charitable outreach to those in need and their service to the country of which they are proud citizens. As a nation, Japan is particularly sensitive to the suffering of those less fortunate, the handicapped and the disabled.

“The theme of my visit is ‘Protect All Life’ in recognition of its inviolable dignity and the importance of showing solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters in any kind of need. I have had a powerful experience of this in listening to the stories of those affected by the triple disaster, and was touched by the hardships that they have endured.”

Pope Francis shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Nov. 25. (Photo: AFP)

Abe's nuclear pledge 

Abe backed back Pope Francis’ call for a world free of nuclear weapons, a position the pontiff made forcefully at the atomic bombing sites in Nagasaki and Hiroshima on Nov. 24.

“As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan is a country with the mission of leading the international community’s efforts to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons. This is my steadfast belief and the firmly established principle of the Japanese government,” Abe said.

“We will continue to work to build a bridge between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. I declare here that we will be utterly tireless in our efforts to promote dialogue while obtaining cooperation from both sides.

“Your Holiness Pope Francis, for 70-plus years since the war, we in Japan have single-mindedly and unwaveringly pursued peace and freedom.

“It was the late Ogata Sadako, who served as United Nations high commissioner for refugees, who spread to the world the thinking that the most important thing is to strengthen each individual human being and enable each and every one to dream big for the future.

“Japan has continued to cultivate young people who believe this, and not only believe it but also demonstrate it through action.”

After meeting the Japanese PM, the pope addressed members of civil society and the diplomatic corps at Abe's official residence.

Speaking of Japan’s cultural heritage, he pointed out that throughout many centuries Japan has been able to develop and preserve “the profound religious and moral values that characterize this ancient culture.”

Good relations between the different religions are not only essential for a future of peace, he said, but for training present and future generations to cherish the ethical principles that serve as the foundation for a truly just and humane society.

Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for having been invited to visit Japan and encouraged all those present in their “efforts to shape a social order ever more protective of life, ever more respectful of the dignity and rights of each member of our human family.”

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