BANGKOK - Pope Francis will visit Thailand and Japan in November in a visit expected to highlight his call for complete nuclear disarmament and honor the small Catholic communities in each country.
The Vatican confirmed the Nov. 19-26 trip, and its diplomatic representative in Thailand, Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam, announced the Thai stop on Friday. Francis will be in Thailand on Nov. 20-23 before heading to Japan, where government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said he would meet with the emperor.
It will be Francis' fourth trip to Asia, where he has already visited South Korea, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Saint Pope John Paul II
The last pope to visit Japan was the late Saint Pope John Paul II in 1981. He was also the last pope to visit Thailand, in 1984.
During his official visit to Thailand, Francis will preside at religious ceremonies and pay pastoral visits to Catholic communities.
Francis's Japan visit includes Tokyo as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were hit by U.S. atomic bombs at the end of World War II.
Francis has frequently spoken out about the risk of nuclear war, most emphatically during a 2017 disarmament conference at the Vatican where he signaled a shift in church teaching about nuclear deterrence.
In that speech to Nobel laureates, NATO officials and diplomats, he warned that the Cold War-era strategy of deterrence was no longer viable and urged instead complete nuclear disarmament.
“If we … take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of (nuclear weapons’) use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned,” he said.
His comments marked a shift, given previous popes including St. John Paul II, had called for the abolition of nuclear weapons but had said the stockpiling of them could be morally acceptable as a form of deterrence.
The pontiff's arrival will lead to a reinvigoration of belief among the nearly 400,000 faithful here. But for Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, it also means the pleasure of a family reunion.
At St. Mary's girls' school in Udon Thani, about 570 kilometers (355 miles) northeast of Bangkok, the pupils have only recently realized their unassuming vice principal's connection to the pope.
Sister Ana Rosa, originally from Buenos Aires in Argentina, came to Thailand in 1966 and has worked as a missionary in several parts of the country. She shares a great-grandfather with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who, six years ago, became Pope Francis. So, she and the pontiff are second cousins.