By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis travels to Thailand from 19-23 November, and to Japan from 23-26th, as part of his 32nd Apostolic Journey.
In an interview with Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti on Monday, the Vatican Secretary of State gave some indication about the Pope’s hopes and the themes he intends to highlight.
Centered on the human person
Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the world has undergone vast changes since Pope St John Paul II visited Thailand in May 1984 and Japan in February 1981.
Globalization, he said, has made it much smaller, allowing people to speak face-to-face despite stunning physical distances.
But, he added, Pope Francis wants to travel to far-flung places in order to encounter people in the flesh, because “the human person lies at the heart of the Church’s attention.” The Church must proclaim the Gospel to each and every person, the Cardinal said, to help them answer life’s difficult questions and to help them find meaning.
Thailand: Missionary disciples
Asked about the visit to Thailand, Cardinal Parolin said Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of the Jesuit missionaries who first proclaimed the Gospel there 350 years ago.
So, he said, an important part of the Pope’s message will regard the Christian call to be missionary disciples.
Cardinal Parolin said the Pope will likely encourage the 400,000-odd Catholics in Thailand to open themselves to the Holy Spirit, “the true protagonist” of the mission.
Mission, he said, “is fulfilled in a fullness that transforms itself into attraction and witness.”
Japan: Denuclearization and peace
Cardinal Parolin then turned to the second part of the Pope’s visit.
“The Japan leg of the journey will be particularly important,” he said, adding that the Pope will likely encourage efforts toward denuclearization.
The Cardinal called Japan “a complex nation” that has “suffered greatly” due to the two nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though it has made a magnificent recovery.
He said the nation finds itself “between tradition and innovation”, as it searches for responses to global problems.
While in Japan, he said, the Pope will touch on “care for our common home, the pursuit of peace, and disarmament as a requisite for peace.”
Pope hopes to share people’s lives
Finally, the Cardinal Secretary of State said Pope Francis travels to Asia to be “close the people entrusted to him, desiring to share their joys, expectations, and hopes, as well as their sorrows, sufferings, and contradictions.”
As the Pope meets with the local Catholic communities, Cardinal Parolin said, he will also proclaim several messages that are “valid for the whole world and the entire Church.”
These, he concluded, include the message of the mission as an foundational element of the Christian experience, the protection of Creation, and the promotion of peace in a fragmented and conflictual world.