Pope Francis visits Japan, bearing anti-nuclear message

By Philip Pullella
Pope Francis visits Japan

By Philip Pullella

TOKYO (Reuters) - Pope Francis arrived on Saturday in Japan, the second leg of a week-long Asian trip whose main aim is to bring an anti-nuclear message to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the world's only cities to suffer atomic bombing.

Francis, 82, a determined anti-nuclear campaigner who has in the past called for a total ban on nuclear weapons, will read a message on the theme in Nagasaki on Sunday and meet survivors.

"I wish to meet those who still bear the wounds of this tragic episode in human history," the pope told Japanese bishops shortly after his arrival.

More than 100,000 people were killed instantly by the two bombs dropped by the United States as it sought to end World War Two in August 1945 and tens of thousands of others died in later years from radiation illnesses and injuries.

The pope will also meet survivors of the March 11, 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The pope's plane touched down in Tokyo in a light drizzle and windy conditions. Francis flew from Thailand to start a four-day visit that will be the first by a pontiff in 38 years and only the second in history.

His trip here is filled with memories of his youth because as a seminarian in his native Argentina more than 50 years ago he dreamed of being sent to Japan as a missionary. But his superiors had other plans for him after he was ordained a priest in 1968.

After a low-key reception at the airport - the official welcome will be on Monday - he immediately went to the Vatican embassy to address the bishops.


MESSAGES FOR CHINA, HONG KONG

En route to Japan, the papal plane flew over Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese airspace and he sent messages to their respective leaders as part of customary diplomatic protocol.

The message to Carrie Lam, the embattled chief executive of Hong Kong, invoked "well being and peace". Francis made no mention of the months of the pro-democracy demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled special administrative region.

The message to Chinese President Xi Jinping was similar. It was the first time that Francis has flown over Chinese airspace since last year's landmark accord between Beijing and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops.

He also sent a message to Taiwan, which has diplomatic relations with the Vatican but which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

Another goal of his visit to Japan is to encourage the Catholic community in Japan, where just about 1% of the population identifies as Christian, about half of them Catholic.

He will say two Masses, one in Nagasaki and one in Tokyo, as well as meeting Japanese officials and Emperor Naruhito.


(Writing by Philip Pullella and Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Ritsuko Ando and Frances Kerry)