TOKYO -- Beauty, creation and each human life are gifts of God to be treasured and shared, not enslaved to current societal ideas of what is valuable, perfect or productive, Pope Francis said at a Mass in the famous Tokyo Dome.
"We are invited as a Christian community to protect all life and testify with wisdom and courage to a way of living marked by gratitude and compassion, generosity and simple listening," the pope told an estimated 50,000 people gathered in the stadium for Mass Nov. 25.
At the Mass, with young people earlier in the day and later during a meeting with government officials and cultural leaders, Pope Francis shared his concern about the high rates of suicide in Japan and about the enormous pressure the culture places on young people to succeed.
In his homily, the pope said the freedom people should enjoy as children of God "can be repressed and weakened if we are enclosed in a vicious circle of anxiety and competition" or if people are convinced that what they produce or consume determines their worth.
When Jesus tells His followers not to be anxious, Pope Francis said, He's not saying basic necessities like food and shelter are unimportant, but He is telling them that a single-minded focus on success and individual happiness "in reality leaves us profoundly unhappy and enslaved, and hinders the authentic development of a truly harmonious and humane society."
Catholics need to embrace and teach others to embrace "things that are not perfect," particularly by demonstrating that all human beings are deserving of love, he said. "Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Someone who happens to be a foreigner, someone who made a mistake, someone ill or in prison: Is that person not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner."
In a long and lively dialogue with young people that morning in St. Mary's Cathedral, Pope Francis talked about how many people in Japan and in other countries are materially rich "but live as slaves to unparalleled loneliness."
After the Mass, the pope met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and then both of them spoke to government officials, civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
Abe thanked the pope particularly for his long attention to the evils of the nuclear arms race.
"I am at a loss for words at the weight of the sorrow and pain wrought by the atomic bomb, and also at the profundity of the prayers offered by Pope Francis, who shows his compassionate consideration of this and whose heart goes out in such great sympathy for it," the prime minister said.
Pope Francis told the prime minister and his guests that one reason he came to Japan was "to implore God and to invite all persons of good will to encourage and promote every necessary means of dissuasion so that the destruction generated by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never take place again in human history."
But the pope also spoke about the people of Japan, especially those who feel excluded from the country's economic and technological advancement.
Work for Christ's kingdom of peace
NAGASAKI, Japan-- While the world knows Nagasaki as the site of a U.S. atomic bomb blast, for the Catholic Church it is also the site of one of the fiercest campaigns of anti-Christian persecution.
Visiting the city Nov. 24, Pope Francis paused for prayer on the hill where St. Paul Miki and 25 others were crucified in 1597; hundreds more were killed in the decades that followed. For more than 200 years there was not a single Catholic priest in Japan, but small communities of "hidden Christians" kept Catholicism alive by secretly baptizing their children and teaching them the faith.
When priests finally were allowed to return to Japan, not all the "hidden Christians" joined the parishes they established, preferring to preserve the family-focused faith they had learned from their ancestors. Small groups of them still exist today.
On a cold, rainy morning at the martyrs' memorial, Pope Francis said the place is not so much a reminder of death as of the promise of eternal life in Jesus.
The martyrs' witness, he said, "confirms us in faith and helps us to renew our dedication and commitment to that missionary discipleship which strives to create a culture capable of protecting and defending all life through the daily 'martyrdom' of silent service toward all, especially those in greatest need."
After a brief rest in the Nagasaki archbishop's residence, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the city's baseball stadium with about 35,000 people, including members of the U.S. military stationed in Japan and Catholics from China and Korea.
In his homily, the pope made reference both to the unwavering faith of the Japanese martyrs and the horrendous suffering of the people after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.
"This land has experienced, as few countries have, the destructive power of which we humans are capable," the pope said in his homily. "Nagasaki bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal, a scar born of the incomprehensible suffering endured by so many innocent victims of wars past and those of the present, when a third World War is being waged piecemeal."
World without nuclear weapons
HIROSHIMA, Japan -- Saying it is "perverse" to think the threat of nuclear weapons makes the world safer, Pope Francis urged a renewed commitment to disarmament and to the international treaties designed to limit or eliminate nuclear weapons.
Pope Francis began his first full day in Japan Nov. 24 with a somber visit in the pouring rain to Nagasaki's Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park, a memorial to the tens of thousands who died when the United States dropped a bomb on the city in 1945. In the evening, he visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, honoring the tens of thousands killed by an atomic bomb there, too.
"The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home," Pope Francis told several hundred people gathered with him in Hiroshima.
"The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral, as I already said two years ago." he said. "We will be judged on this."
The pope spoke in Hiroshima after listening to the horrifying stories of two survivors of the blast: Yoshiko Kajimoto, who was 14 in 1945; and Kojí Hosokawa, who was 17. Almost everyone they knew then is gone.