Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Pope Francis will visit Thailand and Japan in November, the Vatican announced Friday, marking his first visit to Asia since 2017.
In his first visit to Thailand, Francis will celebrate the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the mission in Siam in 1669, America Magazine reported.
Catholics constitute a tiny minority, less than 1 percent, in the predominantly Buddhist country. The history of Christian missionaries dates to the 16th century, when Dominican missionaries were killed two years after first arriving in 1567, according to the report.
In January, Pope Francis sent a message to the meeting of Presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops' Conferences of Asia, and a delegation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Bangkok, according to Vatican News.
"You are gathered in Asia, a vast and multiform continent, marked by religious, linguistic and cultural diversity," wrote the pope, "in order to reaffirm our common responsibility for the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith, as well as to explore new means and methods of witnessing to the Gospel in the midst of the challenges of our contemporary world."
In Japan, Francis is expected to bring a message of nuclear disarmament. In March he met with Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing in Hiroshima.
The pope will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in November. Both cities were destroyed when the United States dropped atomic bombs targeting Japan's munitions industry.
Pope Francis has condemned nuclear arms, and said in 2017 "the very possession" of weapons of mass destruction is morally wrong, an unprecedented statement for the pope.
The pope's willingness to be more outspoken, and his relatively progressive views, have prompted conservative clergymen to condemn him.
On Tuesday Francis said his critics are stabbing him in the back and that he is "not afraid" of the Catholic Church splitting, the BBC reported.
Conservatives in the Church disapprove of his views on the environment and immigration.