Pope Francis’ trip to Thailand and Japan this week will highlight the Catholic Church’s role in Asian societies, especially in the field of education and health.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon expressed hope that the papal trip will give “greater visibility” to the contribution of the Catholic Church in many Asian countries.
“The pope’s visit will shine a light on these works,” said the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences who is traveling with the pontiff.
Cardinal Bo, however, lamented that the persecution of Christians continues to persist in many parts of the region.
“The persecution of Christians persists unfortunately in many parts of Asia,” said the prelate in an interview with Catholic news agency Zenit on board the papal plane to Thailand.
The cardinal noted that Christian persecution has not received adequate attention from the international community, resulting in widespread suppression of Christian rights.
“Pope Francis is a ‘pope of the margins,'” said the cardinal. “In all his exhortations, he has impressed upon the Church to ‘have perspective from the margins,'” he added.
He said that for the pontiff “small is not only beautiful, it needs due recognition.”
“He follows the tradition of St. Paul who traveled to encourage and evangelize the small Christian communities,” said Cardinal Bo.
During this week’s trip to Asia, Pope Francis is expected to speak about peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The pontiff will arrive in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 20 for the first leg of his Asian visit and will depart for Japan on the 23rd.
On Nov. 24, the pope is set to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where more than 200,000 people died when atomic bombs devastated the Japanese cities in August 1945.
Cardinal Bo said the war was a human tragedy that defies any explanation, but the atomic bomb “remains one of the festering wounds of collective human conscience.”
“The pope’s words and actions during his brief visit, we hope, will further the dialogue on atomic weapons,” said the cardinal.
Pope Francis is also set to meet survivors of the 2011 earthquake that hit northeastern Japan, killing at least 18,500 people and triggering a nuclear power crisis.
In 2016, Japanese church leaders called for the abolition of nuclear power in response to the crisis and to promote the protection of the environment.
Cardinal Bo said another “significant reason” for the pope’s trip to Asia this week is to engage with Asian religions, which are getting more attention in the West.
“The pope’s initiatives on protecting nature open new opportunities for engaging with Asian religions,” said Cardinal Bo.
In an earlier statement, Pope Francis expressed his wish “to strengthen the bonds of friendship that we share with many Buddhist brothers and sisters.”