27 November 2019, The Tablet

Francis in East Asia

Francis in East Asia

Pope Francis in Tokyo on Monday


Speaking at the site where the nuclear bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, the Pope denounced the possession of nuclear weapons. It was the most dramatic moment in a visit to Thailand and Japan that reaffirmed that this is, above all, a missionary papacy

Japan, a secular, hierarchical and complex culture, has proved endlessly fascinating and elusive to those missionaries who, for hundreds of years, have sought to plant the seeds of the Gospel in the Far East. “The teachings of Christ are like a flame. Like a flame they set a man on fire,” a local official hostile to Christianity says in The Golden Country, the stage version of Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence. “But the tepid warmth of Japan will eventually nurture sleep.”

Pope Francis’ trip to Japan and Thailand sought to nurture the fragile flame of faith in these countries, where courageous missionaries lit the first sparks hundreds of years ago. The Jesuit Pope, who as a young man dearly wanted to be a missionary to Japan, was following in the footsteps of St Francis Xavier, the Jesuit who first brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. “Whoever wishes to see what our Lord has bestowed upon man need only come to Japan to see it,” Francis told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, quoting from the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, Alessandro Valignano.

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