Tokyo, Japan, Nov 25, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met Monday with Emperor Naruhito of Japan. It was the first meeting of the two less than two weeks since Naruhito completed the rituals that made him the newest emperor in the world’s oldest continuous hereditary throne.
Pope Francis is on his first visit to Japan, a country he's desired to experience since he was in seminary. The trip lasts from Nov. 23-26.
The relationship between the Holy See and Imperial Household has been a strange one, but the papacy has a surprising amount in common with the Japanese imperial throne. And Pope Francis and Emperor Naruhito share similar stories about their rise to positions of leadership.
On Monday, the pontiff and the emperor reportedly greeted each other in Spanish, Pope Francis's native language.
The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes, after which Pope Francis moved on to St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo to speak to Japanese youths.
Naruhito broke with Japanese imperial protocol by personally escorting the pope to his car after their conversation. The emperor is generally expected to stay inside his palace.
That decision speaks to the personal relationship between the two rulers, who have been openly supportive of each other in the past.
Earlier in the year, Pope Francis sent a letter of congratulations to Naruhito, wishing him luck in his governance.
The pope also sent a Vatican representative to the ceremony and celebratory banquet of the Emperor's ascension to the throne last month.
Much as Pope Francis became the pontiff after the unexpected resignation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Naruhito rose to the Chrysanthemum Throne after the sudden resignation of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, his father.
Pope Francis was the first pope to follow a resignation since 1417, and Emperor Naruhito was the first to become emperor through similar means since 1817.
Emperor Emeritus Akihito's resignation was the first since the establishment of the 1947 Japanese Constitution, and surprised the nation.
Both resignations brought some criticism from traditionalists.
Although the Emperor is the highest priest of the Shinto religion, the Imperial Family has in the past had Catholic members.
The Emperor's own mother, Michiko, was raised in a Catholic family and attended Catholic schools in her youth. She has not openly practiced Catholicism since before she married Emperor Emeritus Akihito.
Additionally, the late Prince Asaka converted to Roman Catholicism in 1951, after the close of the Second World War, and practiced the faith until his death in 1951.
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