As a young Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio wanted to become a missionary in Japan. As pope, he came to East Asia as a missionary and advocate against nuclear weapons, for solidarity, dialogue and a church with cultural self-confidence.
Hiroshima – this was "ground zero". Exactly 600 meters above the heads of the people in the square at that time – on 6. August 1945 at 8.16.02 o'clock – the inferno unleashed. Within a second, the bomb had completely destroyed 80 percent of the city center and its heat wave was still igniting fires ten kilometers away. On this Sunday evening, the 24. November 2019, silence lies over the sparsely lit square.
Memorial to the victims
The sky is black. Through the tunnel-shaped memorial to the victims, the dome skeleton of Hiroshima's former Chamber of Commerce and Industry can be seen in the background. One of the few buildings that withstood the blast wave. It is silent. A bell tolls. "There were people walking side by side like ghosts," says Yoshiko Kajimoto, who was 14 at the time, "people whose whole bodies were so burned that you couldn't tell whether they were men or women. Their hair stood on end, their faces swollen to twice their normal size, their lips hanging loosely and skin hanging in tatters from their outstretched hands."
"Here," the pope then formulates, "in an instant everything was swallowed up by a black hole of destruction and death." Francis has come to Japan mainly also to give emphasis to the rejection of nuclear weapons.
Possession of nuclear weapons is immoral
This caused concern for some. Thus, representatives of nuclear powers, especially France, had tried several times to get the Vatican to soften the wording in the Pope's addresses. In vain. "Equally immoral is the possession of nuclear weapons. We will be judged on this," declares the Pope.
The day after Francis' anti-nuclear speeches in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japan Times, in addition to a detailed report on page 1, also brings an analysis of why North Korea, unlike others, has succeeded (very likely) in becoming a nuclear power. As one of several factors for North Korea's questionable success, the author cites "over-decided persistence".
Such a power is needed if what is written in the Peace Park of Hiroshima is to come true: That here the eternal flame shall burn until "the day comes when all nuclear weapons are gone from the earth". "If we really want to build a more just and secure society, we need to take the weapons out of our hands" and put the money into sustainable projects like the UN's 2030 Development Goals, the pope urges. Dialogue is the "only weapon worthy of man that can ensure lasting peace," he says Monday evening at the residence of Japanese Gov. Shinzo Abe. A timely reminder in the face of increasingly nationalistic as well as isolationist tendencies that are also spreading in East Asia.
Against "culture of indifference"
Elsewhere on his Asia trip, Francis also promotes multilateralism and solidarity and deplores a "culture of indifference". Gone are the days when isolationism could have served to resolve conflicts, he rejects protectionist thinking at an interfaith meeting in Bangkok. Even among religions, mutual recognition and cooperation are "more urgent than ever for humanity today".
Francis was surprisingly clear – certainly by Asian standards – right at the start in Thailand. Ethnic conflicts, human trafficking, migration, corruption, prostitution, exploitation, environmental degradation – all of these ies, unpleasant for any host country, he touches upon. Not so much by demanding, but by praising appropriate countermeasures and asking for them to continue.
These indications are well understood, to what extent they are followed is something else. Thailand's head of government, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as Japan's Abe, seem to want to bask in the glow of Francis' moral authority.
Prostitution and sex tourism, with which Western cliches associate Thailand almost exclusively, he addresses cautiously: more indirectly in front of politicians and diplomats, clearly in his sermon in Bangkok's National Stadium. Among the true brothers and sisters of Jesus, according to the pope, are also the "boys, girls and women who are exposed to prostitution and human trafficking". They all "are our mothers, our brothers and sisters".
His 32. A trip abroad with a time difference of first six, then eight hours does not leave the almost 83-year-old pontiff unscathed. Sometimes he limps more conspicuously than usual, struggles out of the back of the car, seems tired. But as soon as he speaks in front of young people, Francis is rejuvenated.
In Tokyo's cathedral, where he spurns the white papal chair provided, Francis gets very specific, encouraging bullying victims, for example, to stand up to their tormentors. They say people must learn to say, "Enough is enough! It's a plague."The pope spontaneously tells a Spanish-speaking migrant: "Leonardo, if someone bullies you as 'fat,' tell him: thin is less healthy."In response to the papal question of whether he bores them, Francis answers with a loud "No".
"Religion of foreigners"
Of course, in Thailand and Japan, the pope is also carrying out his fundamental task: to strengthen his brothers and sisters. In this way, he not only promotes a local Christianity with its own self-confidence, he virtually demands it. The theme of inculturation that characterized the Amazon Synod a good four weeks ago continues with Francis in the Far East. To counter the image of a "religion of foreigners," the Christian faith must be given "a Thai face and a Thai shape," the pope demanded in Bangkok.
The Gospel, he says, must take off "its good but foreign clothes". It is necessary to "look for new symbols and images" to interest others in the faith.