Pope Francis announced on Wednesday he intends to visit Japan in 2019, becoming the first pontiff to do so since John Paul II nearly 40 years ago.
"I would like to communicate my intention to visit Japan next year," the pope told a group of Japanese visitors at the Vatican. "I hope to be able to fulfil this wish."
The pope had received the delegates from the charitable Tensho Kenoho Shisetsu Kenshokai Association in audience, commemorating a visit in 1585 of four young Japanese men accompanied by Jesuit missionaries.
The Argentine pontiff has repeatedly voiced a desire to visit Japan, home to some 450,000 Roman Catholics.