Pope Francis (R) shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a private audience at the Vatican, on May 4, 2022. AFP
The meeting came as nuclear-armed Russia pressed its war in Ukraine and after North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters and vowed to speed up the development of its own nuclear arsenal.
Kishida and Francis spoke privately for about 25 minutes in a Vatican reception room. Kishida then met with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican foreign minister.
In a statement, the Vatican said the talks touched on bilateral and international relations ``with particular attention to the war in Ukraine, stressing the urgency of dialogue and peace and expressing the hope, to this end, for a world free of nuclear weapons.''
Francis has changed church teaching on nuclear weapons, saying their mere possession was ``immoral.'' He made the comments during a 2019 visit to Japan, where he paid tribute to survivors of the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently vowed to speed up the development of his nuclear weapons ``at the fastest possible pace'' and threatened to use them against rivals.
Speaking to reporters in Rome, Kishida said the North's actions that ``threaten the peace, safety and stability of the international community are impermissible.''
South Korean and Japanese officials reported Wednesday that North Korea had test-fired a ballistic missile.
Kishida said he planned to discuss the missile launch when he meets with Italian Premier Mario Draghi later Wednesday.
Francis was seen limping heavily during the Vatican meeting, the effect of strained ligaments in his right knee. The pope recently revealed he had undergone some injections to relieve the pain, though it wasn't clear what the procedure entailed.