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Pope in Japan 2019: In Tokyo, Meetings with Earthquake Survivors, Emperor Naruhito, Changing Catholic Community




If Pope Francis’s visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima touches on the theme of Japan’s past, his trip to Tokyo is about showing the way forward for the Catholic faith in the country. (READ: Pope in Japan 2019: Calling for Nuclear Disarmament, Francis to Visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima)


The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Sunday night, November 24, after spending a day in the historic sites and with the faithful of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima areas of Western Japan.



Meeting the Victims of the March 2011 Triple Disaster


Pope Francis will meet the victims of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami at the Bellesalle Venue in Hanzomon, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, at 10 A.M. on November 25, continuing on the theme of “nuclear disasters” from the previous day in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 



The calamity, which is sometimes known as the triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident — took the lives of over 15,000 people, and caused severe damage to the whole of the northeastern region of Japan. 



Engaging the Youth — and the Reiwa Emperor 


Following the event with survivors of the Great Northeast Japan Earthquake and related disasters, Pope Francis will pay a private visit to Emperor Naruhito. This will be the first encounter of these two world leaders. Pope Francis became the head of the Roman Church in 2013, and Naruhito officially ascended the throne only early this year. It’s a meeting which is potentially important to the Emperor personally, as his mother, Empress Emerita Michiko, was the first Roman Catholic member of the Imperial Family.


At 11.45 A.M., the head of the Roman Catholic Church will conduct a “Gathering with the Youth” at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The cathedral is a majestic building designed by esteemed architect Kenzo Tange and completed in 1964.


The highlight of the Pope’s Tokyo visit is expected to be the Mass held at Tokyo Dome, beginning at 4 P.M. Thousands of people have entered a lottery to secure tickets for the approximately 50,000 seats available on the day.



Both the youth gathering and the Mass are important steps in engaging the younger generation in the Catholic faith. Maasaki Ikeda, leader of the pro-life movement in Japan, said: “My son, 10 years old, said: ‘I wish to go [to the papal Mass]!’ His two elder brothers, 15 and 13, are also joining at Tokyo Dome from their Salesian minor seminary in Yokkaichi City, Mie prefecture. I expect younger generations like my sons are receiving some spiritual message directly from Pope Francis. And I expect the Pope is urging them to be proud of being Catholics. I think it’s important to think of the significance that the Pope visiting must have just for the youth and kids.”



Changing Dynamics of Japan’s Catholic Population


The Tokyo Dome event is expected to highlight the changing Catholic community in Japan. In recent years, Japan’s Catholic churches have benefited from the influx of people from countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, India, America, Argentina, China, the United States, Spain, and Ireland, to name a few.


Mr. Ikeda also commented on this trend: “The most drastic change of the current Catholic community in Japan is the increasing numbers of people from foreign countries. Nowadays, half of Mass attendances in churches in Japan are Catholics from all over the world, mainly Vietnam. In the coming 20 years, half of newly-appointed priests in Japan will likely be Vietnamese.”


Following the Mass, Pope Francis is expected to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other government officials in the evening. 



The Pope will conclude his visit the following morning, November 26, by visiting one of the centers of the Catholic faith in Tokyo, St. Ignatius Church at Sophia University.


Make sure to follow JAPAN Forward at this link for more updates and opinion pieces on the papal visit to Japan. 



Author: Arielle Busetto



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