While speaking to a journalist aboard his flight to Panama, Pope Francis confirmed that he will visit Japan this year.
Greeting members of the press aboard the flight today, 23rd January, the pope was asked by a Japanese journalist if he will be visiting the country.
“I will go to Japan in November. Get ready!” Pope Francis replied.
He also told another journalist aboard the flight that while there are no immediate plans to travel to Iraq, he hopes to visit one day.
“I want to go, I told them that I wanted to go, but they were the ones who told me, ‘Not right now, it isn’t safe,'” the pope said. “But I do want to go and I am following the situation closely.”
The pope, who is visiting Panama from today, 23rd to 27th January for World Youth Day, thanked the journalists for their work in covering the event and led them in a moment of silence and prayer for Alexei Bukalov, a journalist for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, who died in December.
His voice trembling with emotion, Pope Francis remembered Bukalov as “a man of great humanism,” whom “I cared for very much.”
“He was a man capable of synthesising reports in the style of Dostoyevsky. I am sure that we will all miss him,” the pope said.
As is his custom, Pope Francis greeted each of the 70 journalists on the plane, smiling and exchanging words with each one, accepting letters and posing for photographs.
An Italian journalist told Pope Francis of a recent visit he made to Tijuana, Mexico, where he witnessed the plight of the caravan of migrants making their way to the US border, only to find a wall that “reaches all the way to the ocean.”
A wall that goes to the ocean “is madness,” the pope said. “It is fear that makes us crazy.”
Picture: Pilgrims from Japan attend Pope Francis’ general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 11th October 2017. Pope Francis confirmed he will visit Japan in November 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).