Pope Francis is set to fly to Asia on Tuesday (Nov 19), where he will first visit Thailand and then Japan, including the two cities destroyed by devastating US nuclear attacks during the Second World War.
He is set to arrive in Thailand on Wednesday before flying on to Japan on Saturday, where he will stay until Nov 26.
Sunday is set to be a marathon day with visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where at least 74,000 people and 140,000 people respectively were killed by the atomic bombs attacks.
The Aug 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki three days later contributed to Japan’s surrender and the end of the World War II on Aug 15, months after Nazi Germany capitulated.
The pope will make “as vigorous an appeal as possible in favour of concerted measures to completely eliminate nuclear weapons”, Vatican No 2 Cardinal Pietro Parolin told the United Nations in September.
“Using atomic energy to wage war is immoral,” the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics said.
A previous member of Japan’s diplomatic mission to the Vatican, Shigeru Tokuyasu, said he hopes the visit will pull the world back from “the globalisation of indifference” over nuclear weapons.
Pope Francis is also to meet victims of the devastating 2011 earthquake that struck northeastern Japan and the subsequent tsunami that between them killed 18,500 people and sparked the nuclear power catastrophe at Fukushima.
In January last year, he printed cards with a photo of a Nagasaki bomb victim, inscribing the words “the fruit of war” above his signature.
The 1945 photo, captured by American photographer Joe O’Donnell, showed a small boy standing ramrod straight carrying his dead younger brother on his back while waiting for his turn at a cremation site.
The late pope John Paul II visited Japan in 1981, where at Hiroshima’s peace monument he pointed to war as “the work of man”.
In August, the city of Hiroshima called on Japan to sign the UN treaty calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, something that all the world’s nuclear powers have refused to do.
Japan, with its pacifist post-war constitution, adhered in 1967 to the principle of “not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory”, despite counting on the US nuclear umbrella for protection.
In a video message to the Thai people, the pope said he hoped to “strengthen ties of friendship” with Buddhists.
Since Francis’ election six years ago, he has made two trips to Asia, visiting the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 2014, followed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017.