Pope Francis arrives in Japan to preach anti-nuclear message

Pope Francis is fulfilling a long-cherished ambition to preach in Japan, where years ago he hoped to be a missionary. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2019

Pope Francis arrives in Japan to preach anti-nuclear message

  • The 82-year-old Argentine is fulfilling a long-cherished ambition to preach in Japan
  • Christians endured centuries of bloody repression in Japan after the religion was introduced to the country by a Spanish Jesuit priest in 1549

TOKYO: Pope Francis arrived in Japan on Saturday, where he is expected to deliver a robust anti-nuclear message of peace in the only country to have suffered an atomic bomb attack.
The 82-year-old Argentine is fulfilling a long-cherished ambition to preach in Japan, where years ago he hoped to be a missionary.
He arrived in Tokyo in heavy rain and high winds, the white cape of his papal outfit blowing up around his face as he stepped gingerly down the staircase from the Thai Airways plane that carried him from the first stop of his tour in Thailand.
His four-day trip will begin with visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, cities forever associated with the nuclear bombs dropped on them at the end of World War II, killing at least 74,000 people and 140,000 people respectively.
In a video message to the Japanese people before he left the Vatican, Francis railed against the “immoral” use of nuclear weapons.
“Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history,” said the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.
Francis arrives from Thailand, where he preached 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.
Christians endured centuries of bloody repression in Japan after the religion was introduced to the country by a Spanish Jesuit priest in 1549.
In the 17th century, Japan was closed to the outside world and Christians were persecuted, tortured, crucified and drowned as they were forced to recant their faith.
When Japan reopened to the world in the mid-19th century and the missionaries returned, they were astonished to find an estimated 60,000 who had secretly kept the faith alive and followed a unique version of Catholicism blended with Japanese culture and religious rites.
Francis is expected to pay tribute to these so-called “hidden Christians” — or “kakure kirishitan” in Japanese — during his trip on Sunday to Nagasaki, where they were discovered.
Francis will also visit Hiroshima and deliver remarks at the world-famous peace memorial that marks the day on August 6, 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped.
Father Yoshio Kajiyama, director of the Jesuit social center in Tokyo, was born in Hiroshima shortly after the war and is eagerly awaiting the pope’s anti-nuclear speech.
“My grandfather died the day of the bomb in Hiroshima, I never knew him. Four days later my aunt died when she was 15 years old,” said the 64-year-old.
“If you grow up in Hiroshima, you can’t forget the bomb.”
In Tokyo on Monday, Francis will meet victims of the “triple disaster,” the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in 2011 that devastated large swathes of north-eastern Japan.
His trip will also include meetings with the new Emperor Naruhito and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as delivering a mass in a Tokyo baseball stadium.
On the first leg of his latest Asian tour, Francis spent three nights in Buddhist-majority Thailand, another country where just a sliver of the population is Catholic.
He met with Thai King Vajiralongkorn and also sat down with the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch — the head of Thailand’s Buddhists — readily taking off his shoes during the visit to adhere to local customs.
His cousin Sister Ana Rosa, who has worked as a missionary in Thailand since 1966, was a near constant presence by his side during the visit, serving as his interpreter.
In his final public address in Bangkok, the pontiff expressed gratitude to the small Catholic community for the warm welcome he received.
“I am leaving you with a task: do not forget to pray for me!”


At least two killed as car ploughs into pedestrian zone in German town

Updated 22 min 23 sec ago

At least two killed as car ploughs into pedestrian zone in German town

  • The driver was arrested and the vehicle was impounded, Trier police tweeted
  • Two people have died, and 15 others had suffered serious injuries

BERLIN: At least two people including a child were killed and up to 15 injured on Tuesday when a speeding car ploughed into a pedestrian area in the western German city of Trier, authorities said.
Witnesses said people screamed in panic and some were thrown into the air by the car as it crashed through the shopping zone.
Police said several people had been killed, having earlier put the death toll at two, with more than 10 injured. The local newspaper, the Trierischer Volksfreund, put the death toll at four, including a child, but police did not confirm that figure.
"We have arrested one person, one vehicle has been secured," police said, adding that a 51-year-old German suspect from the Trier area was being questioned, police said.
Mayor Wolfram Leibe had rushed to the scene.
"We have a driver who ran amok in the city. We have two dead that we are certain of and up to 15 injured, some of them with the most severe injuries," he told public broadcaster SWR.
"I just walked through the city centre and it was just horrible. There is a trainer lying on the ground, and the girl it belongs to is dead," he told a news conference, with tears stopping him from speaking further.
He told broadcaster N-TV that people who saw the incident were "totally traumatised" and the street "looks a bit like after a war".
Leibe said he did not know the motive for the incident, which shocked residents of Germany's oldest town, founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago.
The Trierischer Volksfreund quoted an eyewitness as saying a Range Rover was driving at high speed and people had been thrown through the air. It said the car had Trier plates.
It reported that people screamed in panic when the car drove through the street.
Officers were scouring the area in search of evidence, backed by police dressed in flak jackets and carrying rifles. On the streets, Christmas lights twinkled incongruously.
Germany has tightened security on pedestrian zones across the country since a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016 that killed 12 people and injured dozens.
In October 2019, a man opened fire on a synagogue in the city of Halle. After failing to get into the building he went on a rampage outside, killing two people.
In February this year a racist gunman killed nine migrants in Hanau near Frankfurt before killing his mother and himself. Only about a week later, a local man ploughed his car into a carnival parade in the town of Volkmarsen, injuring 61.
Germany has tightened measures to fight the coronavirus, with bars and restaurants closed, but shops and schools are still open.
"What happened in Trier is shocking. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the victims, with the numerous injured and with everyone who is currently on duty to care for the victims," Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Twitter.