By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis and the prime minister of Japan, the only country to be hit by atomic bombs, met on Wednesday and discussed their common hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Francis and Fumio Kishida met for about half an hour in a receiving room of the Vatican’s audience hall just before Francis held his general audience for thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
“They talked of nuclear weapons and how their use and possession is inconceivable,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
A separate Vatican statement said that in discussions afterwards with top Vatican diplomats, particular attention was given to the war in Ukraine, “stressing the urgency of dialogue and peace and expressing the hope, to this end, for a world free of nuclear weapons”.
Since Russia invaded its neighbour on Feb. 24, Francis has several times spoken of a possible nuclear conflict resulting from the war.
The two met on the same day that Russia’s foreign ministry announced sanctions against 63 Japanese officials, including Kishida, for engaging in what it called “unacceptable rhetoric” against Moscow.
In its readout of the meeting, the Japanese embassy to the Vatican said in a statement that the pope and Kishida also discussed North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Wednesday and concern about the north’s nuclear potential.
During his visit to Japan in 2019, Francis visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which in 1945 became the only cities ever to be hit by atomic bombs, and appealed to world leaders to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.
Francis backs a U.N. treaty aiming to ban nuclear weapons and has said that even their possession for the purpose of deterrence is immoral.
(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Alexandra Hudson)