VATICAN CITY — The Vatican confirmed Friday that Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November, with stops scheduled in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Pope Francis will visit Thailand Nov. 20-23 in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669. The Pope will then travel Nov. 23-26 to Japan, where the theme of his visit is “Protect All Life.”
In recent years, the Church has been working in Japan to respond to life issues and protect the most vulnerable. The Holy See Press Office said that the trip’s motto not only applies to respect for all human dignity, but also extends to the environment.
“In Japan today, as well, there are a pile of problems related to life and peace, in addition to the issues of economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear-plant accidents remain as persisting problems,” according to the Vatican statement.
The papal trip to Japan has been much anticipated, after Pope Francis told journalists in January he was planning to travel to the country. The Associated Press reported Sept. 13 that Pope Francis will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese Emperor Naruhito during his visit to the country.
Catholics in Japan make up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Catholic missionaries, most notably St. Francis Xavier. In the years that followed, the Catholics in Japan suffered many waves of fierce persecutions, with hundreds martyred, including 26 canonized saints who were executed by crucifixion in 1597 in Nagasaki.
In Thailand, the small Catholic community — representing less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population — has been celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam with events throughout 2019.
In May, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated Mass with 4,000 Thai people in Sampran, outside of Bangkok.
“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions, but with more than 85% of its members unbaptized,” Cardinal Filoni said at the opening ceremony of the anniversary celebration.
“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.
“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia is indeed a true mission ... when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of nonbaptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person,” he added.
Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981. During his visit to Japan, St. John Paul II visited Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including a stop in the town of the Immaculata established by St. Maximilian Kolbe.
In 2019, Pope Francis has already visited nine other countries outside of Italy, including Panama, Morocco, Madagascar, Romania and the United Arab Emirates.
On the return flight from his trip to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius in Africa earlier this week, the Pope told journalists that he does plan to visit more European countries, but he will prioritize visits to smaller countries within Europe.