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Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was remembered as a man who showed “great respect to the Catholic Church, particularly to the Holy See” after his assassination on Friday.
Abe was campaigning for local candidates in Nara when a person shot him in the back from close range with what news reports have described as a homemade gun. The 67-year-old was airlifted to hospital, but officials said he was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later confirmed to have died by the hospital.
Police arrested the suspected gunman at the scene, but no motive has been given.
“Though we Catholic Bishops of Japan and the late Prime Minister had great differences in opinion over several issues including nuclear disarmament, nuclear energy policy and the pacifist constitution, Mr. Abe showed great respect to the Catholic Church, particularly to the Holy See as he must have understood the influence of the Holy Father on international society over the peace issue,” said Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo.
“That is the main reason why he put quite an energy to invite the Holy Father to visit Japan and he even appointed for very first time a Catholic as the ambassador to the Holy See. While sending a number of envoys to meet Holy Father to invite him to visit Japan, he himself also visited the Holy Father in the Vatican in 2014,” the archbishop told Crux.
The Catholic Church makes up less than 0.5 percent of the prominently Shinto and Buddhist country, with less than 500,000 members.
Abe is the longest serving prime minister in Japan’s history, having been in office twice, first from 2006-2007 and then from 2012-2020. A member of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, he was controversial for his views on re-militarizing Japan and his revisionist views on Japan’s actions during World War II.
He hosted Pope Francis during the pontiff’s Nov. 24-26, 2019, trip to Japan, including the pontiff’s visits to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“Both agreed on to continue to advocate for a world without nuclear weapons, eradication of poverty, human rights and the protection of environment,” Kikuchi said.
“Though both agreed upon to make more effort to aim at the same goals on such critical issues, both also found out that approaches of Mr. Abe and the Holy Father was not the same,” he continued.
“The Holy Father is much more radical to make commitment to realize some of these goals but Mr. Abe was much more cautious to realize his own political agenda. That was, I guess, one of the reasons why the Holy Father did not made any mention on the death penalty nor nuclear energy policy until he had boarded the flight back to Rome,” the archbishop said.
Aside from the United States, Japan is the only G7 nation to retain capital punishment.
Kikuchi also noted the Japanese bishops disagreed with Abe’s attempts to change Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes, although he said both the Church and the former prime minister were “probably aiming at the same goal, which is to establish peace in the region.”
“Though there were differences of opinion between we Bishops and Mr. Abe’s policy, we still enjoy freedom of faith and belief in Japan under the protection of the constitution through which Mr. Abe had been chosen to be the prime minister. His enormous contributions to the country should be respected and such a person should not have been taken away by this violent attack. May he rest in peace,” the archbishop said.
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