Pope’s Asian agenda: Atomic bombs, martyrs, family reunion

Vatican City: Pope Francis has agendas both pastoral and personal for his trip to Asia, where he’ll appeal for global nuclear disarmament at the sites of the atomic bomb and minister to two tiny Catholic communities that have suffered gruesome periods of persecution.

Emphasising the dignity of life is also on Francis’ to-do list for his trip to Thailand and Japan that begins Wednesday, given the scourge of human trafficking in Thailand and Japan’s use of capital punishment and high suicide rate. As a young Jesuit, Francis dreamed of being a missionary in Japan, inspired by the courage of Japan’s Hidden Christians, who braved two centuries of persecution to keep their faith alive. “In some way, this is the fulfilment of his dream,” said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news service.

In Thailand, Francis will also be reunited with his second cousin, Sister Ana Rose Sivori, an Argentine nun who has lived in Thailand since 1966 and will serve as Francis’ official translator there. Here are some highlights of Francis’ pilgrimage, his fourth to Asia and one that could also touch on the Vatican’s delicate relations with China: Asian martyrs and missionaries.

One of the highlights of the trip will be Francis’ prayer at the memorial of the 26 Nagasaki Martyrs, who were crucified in 1597 at the start of a two-century wave of anti-Christian persecution by Japanese rulers. After converting more than a quarter-million Japanese, missionaries were banned at the start of the 17th century. Japanese Christians were forced to renounce their faith, suffer tortuous deaths or go underground.