Pope says he hopes to visit Japan next year, fulfilling wish

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says he hopes to visit Japan next year.

Francis made the announcement while meeting with a visiting Japanese cultural association on Wednesday. Speaking off the cuff, Francis said: "Taking advantage of this visit, I want to announce my hope to visit Japan next year. We hope to do it."

Francis has long expressed his admiration for Japanese culture and history. He had hoped to become a missionary in Japan after he was ordained a priest but his superiors dashed his hopes, citing his frail health at the time.

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reportedly asked Francis to visit earlier this year to encourage survivors of the 1945 atomic bombs. The legacy of the victims is close to Francis' heart, as is the history of Christian martyrs there.