Sex tourism, suicide, the death penalty, peace: Pope visits Thailand and Japan

As Pope Francis beging the thirty-second trip of his pontificate Nov. 19 to Thailand and Japan, he will once again be visiting nations where Catholics are a small minority.

In both countries, there’s one Catholic for every 200 people, as opposed to roughly one for five in the United States.

The Nov. 19-26 trip will be the pontiff’s fourth to Asia, following South Korea (2014), Sri Lanka and the Philippines (2015), and Bangladesh and Myanmar (2017).

Though his first priority will be to boost the small local Catholic communities, Pope Francis is bound to focus most of his 18 scheduled speeches – all in Spanish – on issues close to his heart and which heavily affect these countries.

The wide range of topics likely will include human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in Thailand’s sexual tourism industry; the death penalty; corruption; and the high number of suicides among young people.

He’s also expected to call for peace and nuclear disarmament, especially during stops in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and care for the environment.

Just to put some of these priorities into context:

  • Sex tourism: Both girls and boys as young as ten years old are forced into prostitution in Thailand, either by local pedophiles or foreign sex tourists. Often they’re forced to service five to ten clients a day, constituting what Pope Francis condemns as “modern day slavery,” and a “crime against humanity.” UNICEF describes child prostitution as “one of the gravest infringements of rights that children can endure.”
  • The death penalty: The pontiff recently changed the official compendium of Catholic teaching to reflect that capital punishment is never admissible. However, it’s still allowed in Japan. The local Church has invited Iwao Hakamada, an 86-year old man who spent 48 years on death row, to meet Pope Francis. This former boxer and Catholic convert was released in 2014 when DNA analysis proved the evidence against him could have been planted.
  • Suicide: According to a 2018 government report, 250 elementary and high school-age children in Japan took their own lives between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of reasons including bullying, family issues and stress. It’s the top cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 39, and Japan’s suicide rate is the sixth highest in the world.
  • Peace: While in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s only two cities to have experienced nuclear weapons, Francis is expected to reiterate his calls for nuclear disarmament. Though post-war Japan has a history of pacificism, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is currently attempting to revise the constitution to allow for rearmament. (The Nippon Carta Magna, article nine, states that the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right, aspiring “to an international peace based on justice and order.”) Continue reading
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