Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit Japan, including the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bombed with atomic bombs, by the end of next year, the Japanese cardinal said on Monday.

If the plan is accomplished, he will become the first pope to travel to Japan since John Paul II visited the two cities on 1981.

Japanese Cardinal Manyo Maeda, who met Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier in the day, said the pope should pray for the victims of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 in World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has asked the pope to visit the country when they held talks at the Vatican on 2014.

In September of this year, Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit Japan next year when he met with a delegation from a private group of Miyazaki prefecture.

Hiroshima mayors in western Japan and Nagasaki in southwestern Japan, as well as the governor of Hiroshima province, also urged the pope to visit him when they attended the weekly audience.

The Pope responded by sending letters in which he promised to offer prayers for the citizens of both cities, according to local governments. The letters, dated May, do not mention a potential visit.

Maeda, a native of the Goto islands in Nagasaki province and whose mother survived the Nagasaki bombing, became Japan's cardinal in June. He is the sixth Japanese cardinal and follows his predecessor, Fumio Hamao, who died in 2007.

Although the population of Catholics in Japan is small around 400.000, or 0,3% of the national population, the country has a history with the Catholic Church extending over the centuries since the Jesuit Francis Xavier landed in southwest Japan in 1549.

Last summer, a dozen sites in southwestern Japan in prefectures of Nagasaki and Kumamoto, which are linked to persecuted Christians, have been added to the list of World Heritage of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Source: Kyodo News

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