Following are the welcoming Remarks by H.E. Mr. ABE Shinzō, Prime Minister of Japan, at a Meeting with Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in Honour of His Holiness Pope Francis November 25, 2019, Sakura-no-ma Hall, Prime Minister’s Office, Tokyo, Japan. [Provisional translation]
Your Holiness Pope Francis, Distinguished participants,
Allow me to make short remarks, representing the Japanese government.
Your Holiness, welcome to Japan, and to the Prime Minister’s Office. I welcome you most wholeheartedly on your visit.
Pope Francis and I just had intimate talks together.
Pope Francis has sent his congratulations on the accession of His Majesty the Emperor to the imperial throne. He also graciously met this morning with people who suffered from the Great East Japan Earthquake. I extended my profound appreciation to Pope Francis for his deep thoughtfulness.
I have learnt that Pope Francis has had a strong desire to visit Japan ever since he was young. Over here, today, a great many people have come in the hopes of meeting you, Your Holiness, including Deputy Prime Minister ASŌ Tarō, who is just there. His Catholic name is Francisco, the same as yours.
Now, in welcoming Pope Francis and offering these remarks, I would like to touch upon one of his many General Audiences.
It was a speech at the Vatican on January 15, 2014. In it, Pope Francis referred indirectly to a historical occurrence that took place in Japan.
It is something that happened about a hundred and fifty years ago, on March 17, 1865. Some people unexpectedly came to visit a church that had just been constructed, in a place called Ōura in Nagasaki. Men and women with children in tow, they numbered a dozen or so in all. They hailed from a place called Urakami.
The priest, Father Bernard Petitjean, prayed earnestly as they watched. Before long, a woman emerged from the group and approached him.
And to him, she asked a question, “Where is the statue of Sancta Maria?”
Those words must have been quite a cause of astonishment for Father Petitjean, who wrote out in a letter he sent to Paris the very next day the Romanized version of the Japanese he heard: Sancta Maria no gozowa doko.
Until that day, about 220 years had passed since Japan had last had any Catholic priests. It was the miraculous moment when it first came to light that there were people of endurance who had continued to follow their beliefs in the midst of persecution beyond description.
It is said that a certain teaching had been handed down in that community, which had survived by mutually helping and encouraging each other: “After waiting seven generations, a priest will come from across the sea.”
The resilience to maintain unity among the circle of believers and to adhere to their faith all throughout the long span of what was, in fact, seven generations until that day is something that cannot but shake our very souls even now, transcending time and space and differences in religion.
And yet, history is harsh, indeed. In the course of time, an atomic bomb would fall on that same Nagasaki, and moreover directly above the people of Urakami.
On display is a photograph. It was taken somewhere near Nagasaki. The time was 1945, after the atomic bomb had exploded, and likely to be around the time that summer gives way to autumn.
Captured therein is a young boy, around 10 years of age. On his back is a child, head hanging limp, eyes closed, who appears to be the boy’s brother, his baby brother.
The place where the boy, barefoot, stands at rigid attention, straight as an arrow, is the crematorium. The small child on his back had already breathed his last, and the boy had come to return the child to the earth.
Pope Francis made this photograph into a card. Adding the comment, “The sadness of the child is expressed only by his lips, bitten and oozing blood,” Pope Francis widely distributed this card, inscribed with the words, “The fruit of war,” followed by his signature.
That very same photograph was used at the place where Pope Francis offered prayers yesterday in Nagasaki.
I am at a loss for words—at the weight of the sorrow and pain wrought by the atomic bomb, and also at the profundity of the prayers offered by Pope Francis, who shows his compassionate consideration of this and whose heart goes out in such great sympathy for it.
As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan is a country with the mission of leading the international community’s efforts to bring about “a world free of nuclear weapons.” This is my steadfast belief and the firmly- established principle of the Japanese government.
We will continue to work to build a bridge between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. I declare here that we will be utterly tireless in our efforts to promote dialogue while obtaining cooperation from both sides.
Your Holiness Pope Francis, for 70-plus years since the war, we in Japan have single-mindedly and unwaveringly pursued peace and freedom.
It was the late OGATA Sadako, who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who spread to the world the thinking that the most important thing is to strengthen each individual human being and enable each and everyone to dream big for the future.
Japan has continued to cultivate young people who believe this, and not only believe it but also demonstrate it through action. I for one, and indeed a great many Japanese, take pride in this fact.
Now, at this very moment, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers are in the most impoverished areas around the world carrying out their activities.
These are young people who, thanks to their innate tenacity, even if they come down with malaria, will spare no effort to provide hope to the poor, those in weak positions, women, and children.
At the same time, however, at this very moment when we enjoy peace, there are people being persecuted. There are people imprisoned without cause, waiting for release.
In the same way that Pope Francis says, “Proteger toda vida” — “protect all life” — we must not forsake anyone in the depths of such kinds of despair.
We who respect freedom and cherish human rights must, without fail, rescue people who cannot see the light of hope and can find only despair.
Having had the opportunity of observing at such an intimate distance Pope Francis, who walks right alongside the poor and the disadvantaged and keeps pushing on forward, I too have renewed my determination, a determination to press on tirelessly, in order to make the world a better place.
I will end my remarks by quoting some lines by Pope Francis.
“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.”
Thank you for listening.