TALIN DEROHANESSIANS WRITES –For the first time in nearly 40 years, a Catholic Pope visited Japan. The date was November 23, and the top items on the agenda were environmental protection and peace. While there Pope Francis met with Japanese Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace and with Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister.

Pope Francis began his trip by comforting atomic bomb survivors in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He also met with victims of the 2011 “triple disaster” in Tokyo on November 25. The Pope heard first-hand stories from survivors of the 9.1 magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami and resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown.

The triple disaster began with an earthquake that struck 130 kilometers from Japan’s northeastern coastline.  The subsequent tsunami wiped out people and buildings, while disabling the power supply and damaging the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The result was a nuclear disaster, the worst since Chernobyl. 15,898 people died and 2,531 went missing and were never accounted for. No deaths were directly associated with the meltdown but nearly 4,000 people died as a result of complications from the evacuations. 50,000 remain in temporary housing.

In response to the disaster, the Catholic bishops of Japan called for the shutdown of all nuclear plants– a startling proposed departure from national policy, which has not changed since 1955 but has been under severe scrutiny as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

           On his November trip, Pope Francis addressed the people in Holy Mass at the Tokyo Dome, recognizing the disconnectedness that has surfaced between youths caused by the country’s long work hours and increased competition, which in turn led the Pope to urge them to be more aware and communicative. The Pope also urged people to consider future generations and to “think about the future of our common home, we need to realize that we cannot make purely selfish decisions.”  He even called the use of atomic weapons a crime against the dignity of humans and the future of our “common home.”

The trip wrapped up at the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo. Francis urged students and faculty at the prestigious private university to consider expanding admissions so as to include more than the privileged few. He also encouraged the university to focus on environmental concerns, which align with his personal agenda.

The Pope had begun his Asian tour in Thailand, stressing religious harmony and peace in the Buddhist majority country that has warned  against the dangers of technology detracting from the importance of culture and religion. Thailand, like Japan, has a small Catholic community. Nevertheless, his holiday inspired message of hope and peace applies everywhere, to everyone, at all times. Peace.

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