Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Forthcoming Papal Visit to Japan in the Asian context
(Looking into His Visit via Two Key Concepts)
UENO Kagefumi / Civilizational Thinker

January 29, 2019
It was lately reported that Pope Francis will finally come to Japan in November this year---indeed 38 years after the previous papal visit by John Paul Ⅱ.To look into the context of Francis’s visit, two key concepts appear to be helpful----“the conscience of the international society” and “Pope who is attentive to Asia.” These concepts would help elucidate the backdrop and meaning of his visit.

First, I’d like to query why no pope ever came to Japan for the last 38 years. That’s very simple---because the Vatican gives low priority to Japan, as the proportion of the Catholics to the population there remains less than 1/200. Then why is the Pope, the ultimate head of the whole Catholic world, coming to this non-Catholic Japan? That’s because the Pope is, besides being a religious leader, “a diplomat par excellence” who incessantly gives messages and warnings to the international society on such secular issues as poverty, income inequality, immigration and refugees, and conflict resolution, which make him “a mentor” or ”the conscience” of the international society” as well as “a missionary of peace ”.

Let us look back at the remarks Pope Francis recently made as “the international conscience” , which may give us some clues as to the messages he will extend during his stay in Japan.

●The issues of poverty and income inequality are his biggest concerns. This Pope from South America, who consistently advocates that the Church should stand by the poor and shift their focus towards the South, is highly critical of the North’s materialistic way of life and the wide economic disparity between the North and the South. He intensifies his admonition that the rich countries should taper out the culture of greed, luxury and excessive consumption and return to modest life, extending help to the poor and the weak as well as refugees.

●Besides, he repeats his alarm on the uncontrollable violence of civil wars in, say, Syria and Yemen, and also advocates decisive denuclearization and control over international arms trade. As for denuclearization, he will, I assume, send a very strong message from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

●Pope Francis, who is very seriously concerned about the ongoing deterioration of global environment, demands that the North should fulfill their responsibility by rectifying the habit of exorbitant consumption and waste of resources.

●At his new year discourse on international affairs in early January to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, he sharply criticized the increasing number of political leaders who disregard multilateral bodies such as the United Nations, appealing for the re-appreciation of the role of multilateral diplomacy.

By and large, his messages as above seem agreeable to Japanese people, though some may sound harsh to them. In any event, as many international leaders pay respect to the Pope as “the conscience of the international society” , the messages he extends from Japan to the world would be seen to contain the essence of the meaning of his visit to Japan.

The Pope’s visit should also be seen in the context of “the Vatican-Asia relationship”.

In Asia where traditional religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are more or less dominant, the percentage of Catholic population is very low. Against this backdrop, the Vatican, a bastion of Euro-Centrism, so far paid little attention to Asia. Thus, by and large, the Vatican-Asia relationship remained inactive. That’s why previous Pope Benedict XVI, a very conservative traditionalist, never visited any Asian country during his tenure of 8 years. This started to change, since Francis, an advocate of the shift of the Church’s focus from the North to the South (i.e., Central and South America, Africa and Asia), assumed the papacy 6 years ago.

Since then, this Pope gave favorable consideration to Asia in terms of the promotion of high ranking clergies or the shaping of the papal overseas trips. And in September last year, the Vatican at last reached the historic agreement with the Chinese Government on the process of the nomination of bishops of the Chinese Catholic Church, long seen as the toughest nut to crack for both sides, paving the way for a process of institutional dialogue between the two. The Pope has made unstinting efforts over the past 6 years to shorten the moral distance between the Vatican and Asia. This should be more widely known as a background of the papal trip. His visit to Japan will be made in such a context.

It was indeed a surprise that President Xi Jingping recognized the Papal authority over the Chinese Catholic Church despite his persistent insistence on the furtherance of “the sinicization of religion” in China. This bold compromise was presumably an outcome of the highly political decision by President Xi to capitalize on the weighty presence of the Pope, a symbol of the West, as a way to mitigate the impact of Washington’s diplomatic offensive. It is, therefore, not accurate to criticize the Vatican, as some conservative Catholic clergies do, by saying that it was outwitted to make a one-sided concession in favor of China. Nonetheless, their concern about the Communist government is understandable as the Xi regime imposes harsher control over religions in China, not to mention their draconian oppression over Uighurs Islam in the Xinjiang province. It is thus important to carefully watch Beijing ---to see if it would act against the spirit of the agreement.

Incidentally, this Jesuit Pope appears to keep the DNA inherited from Xavier and Matteo Ricci, the Jesuits who pioneered the missionary work in Asia 5 centuries ago. In this sense, he may have “a special sentiment” towards the improvement of relations with China. This feeling might have prodded him forward a bit this time. Likewise, young Belgorio was keen to come to Japan to pursue missionary work. His application was, however, turned down because of his poor health. He may still keep a special sentiment towards Japan which might have prodded him a bit towards the forthcoming visit.

All in all, it will be exciting to observe the messages that the Pope extends from Japan.

UENO Kagefumi is former Ambassador to the Holy See
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

ローマ法王来日とアジア (来日を紐解く2つのキーワード)
上野 景文 / 文明論考察家

2019年 1月 29日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Forthcoming Papal Visit to Japan in the Asian context
(Looking into His Visit via Two Key Concepts)