Photo/IllutrationNagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, left, hands a letter to Pope Francis on May 2 in Vatican City. ((c) Vatican Media Foto, provided by the Nagasaki city government)

ROME--Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of next year.

If realized, it would mark the second trip by a pope to Japan since Pope John Paul II visited in 1981.

According to sources, Francis conveyed his intention to Japan's Cardinal Manyo Maeda when the two met at the Vatican on Dec. 17.

In response to the news, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue expressed great pleasure and a welcome to the pope, saying, "I want the pope to strongly convey a message of peace to all over the world from Nagasaki."

Nagasaki Governor Hodo Nakamura also commented, saying, "I want the pope to touch on the history of Japan's 'hidden Christians' and deepen exchanges with the broader public in Nagasaki, including atomic bomb survivors."

During a trip to Vatican City in 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked the pope to visit Japan.

In May, Taue also extended an invitation by handing a letter to the pope, which was also signed by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui.

Francis showed his willingness to visit next year when he met with a private group from Miyazaki Prefecture in September.