For the First Time In Nearly 40 years Pope Celebrates Mass in Japan

The first visit to Japan by the current Pope Francis

By Timothy Nerozzi

November 26, 2019

TOKYO–Pope Francis greeted Roman Catholics from across Asia, marking the first papal visit to the island nation of Japan in nearly 40 years.

The special mass was conducted in Japan’s largest indoor arena space usually reserved for the Yomiuri Giants — Tokyo’s most famous baseball club. The mass was spoken in more than ten languages, with translations and music handed out to attendees beforehand. 

The Prayer of the Faithful was spoken in English, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, Latin, and also performed in sign language for the deaf and hearing impaired. Responses from the audience were also at times, given in foreign languages.

The government of communist Vietnam reportedly prevented at least some Catholic priests from attending the Pope’s mass in Tokyo. Japan is the largest country in East Asia with which the Holy See has official diplomatic relations. The Vatican recognizes Taiwan rather than Mainland China.

For most Tokyo residents who were not Catholics, the event was just another one in a busy calendar of international events. The 2019 Rugby World Cub finished in Japan earlier this month and next summer Japan will host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Some used the event to pray for sports victories such as this Filipino tour guide in Tokyo:

In the country of death by overwork and cram schools for elementary schoolers, the pontiff’s message was not one of fire and energy, but rather a call for those listening to slow down and to stop the relentless pursuit of financial success.

“Worldly attitudes that look only to one’s profit or gain in this world, and selfishness that pursues only individual happiness,” said the Pope, “in reality leave us profoundly unhappy and enslaved, and hinder the authentic development of a truly harmonious and humane society”.

The title and theme of the tour were “Protect All Life,” a slogan chosen to promote the Catholic Church’s universal pro-life stance. The Catholic Church opposes all public policy that aims to take human life in any way, and the Church heavily criticizes policies of war, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment.

Catholic schools were bused in from around the country and filled large sections of the upper and lower decks, easily distinguishable by their matching, European-style uniforms.

Pope Francis has spoken at length about his admiration for Japan. In his younger years, he had hoped to one day go to Japan for missionary work but had not been able to make the trip until now.

The Tokyo Dome appearance was the final visit in one that included previously made stops in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima two cities bombed by the United States with atomic weapons at the end of World War II.

“With deep conviction, I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for war is today, more than, ever a crime,” the Pope said in a statement during his visit to these cities.

The last Pope to come to Japan was Pope John Paul II, who came to Japan more than 38 years ago. Pope John Paul II also expressed a profound emotional impact in meeting with survivors of the atomic bomb he met. Known for his skills in acquiring foreign languages, Pope John Paul II spoke small portions of his speeches in Japanese during his trip.

Japan is a majority religiously-unaffiliated country, with less than half of its citizens claiming adherence to Buddhism — a religion that came to the islands over a thousand years ago. Less than 5% of its population claims a direct affiliation with Shintoism, the native religion of Japanese culture. Between 1-2% of the population of 129 million is Christian. Approximately half of that statistic is Catholicism, the other half is various denominations of Protestantism with small Orthodox Christian population as well.