Pope Francis intends to visit Japan in 2019

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Pope Francis waves at the public as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience at the Saint Peter’s square, in Vatican, on September 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Tiziana FABI

Pope Francis announced on Wednesday he intends to visit Japan in 2019, becoming the first pontiff to do so since John Paul II.

“I would like to communicate my intention to visit Japan next year,” the pope told a group of Japanese during an audience at the Vatican. “I hope to be able to fulfil this wish.”

The pope on Wednesday received delegates from the charitable Tensho Kenoho Shisetsu Kenshokai Association, commemorating a visit in 1585 of four young Japanese men accompanied by Jesuit missionaries.

The Argentine pontiff has repeatedly said he wants to visit Japan. He had wanted to work as a missionary there in his youth but abandoned his plan after an operation on his lung.

The pope noted that the 1585 journey to visit pope Gregory XIII was the first by Japanese to Europe and took more than eight years.

“Yours is shorter and less tiring,” the pope joked. “But I hope you feel welcomed by the Pope as they were.”

The Pope hailed the association’s work to fund training for the young and orphans.

“You wish to show that religion, culture and the economy can work together peacefully to create a more humane world marked by an integral ecology.”