In a meeting with bishops in Tokyo Saturday, Pope Francis recalled his former desire to be a missionary to Japan, praising those who carried the faith there before him.
“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,” Francis told the Japanese bishops in the apostolic nunciature in Tokyo Nov. 23.
As a young Jesuit, Pope Francis wanted to be sent to Japan to be a missionary, inspired by the example of St. Francis Xavier, but he was prevented from going because of his health.
“Many years have passed since that missionary impulse, whose realization has been long in coming,” he said. “Today the Lord gives me the opportunity to come among you as a missionary pilgrim in the footsteps of great witnesses to the faith.”
Pope Francis is in Japan for the second leg of a six-day trip to Asia, which began in Thailand Nov. 20-22.
In addition to Tokyo, he will follow his predecessor St. Pope John Paul II in visiting the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where he will give speeches at the sites of the 1946 atomic bombings. He is expected to speak against nuclear weapons and the arms trade.
The pope will also meet with victims of Japan’s 2011 “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
At his meeting with bishops, which took place immediately after his arrival in Tokyo, Francis recalled the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, whose arrival in Japan 470 years ago “marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in this land.”
“In his memory, I want to join you in thanking the Lord for all those who, over the centuries, have dedicated themselves to implanting the Gospel and serving the Japanese people with great tenderness and love,” he said.
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