PYONGYANG – Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, will invite Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang. South Korean president Moon Jae-in will deliver the invitation during his visit to the Vatican next week.
Although he may be the first pope to visit North Korea, Pope Francis is not the first to receive an invitation. Saint Pope John Paul the Great was once invited. The invitation came after a 2000 inter-Korean summit, but never resulted in a papal visit. The Vatican declined the invitation, and said acceptance could only come if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Until this point, the Vatican and North Korea don’t have a formal diplomatic relationship.
“During the meeting with Pope Francis, [Mr Moon] will relay the message from chairman Kim Jong-un that he would ardently welcome the Pope if he visits [the North Korean capital] Pyongyang,” Mr Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, told reporters according to BBC.
The Vatican has not responded to news sources for a comment on the invitation. The only officially confirmed event is that the pope will receive South Korea’s president at the Vatican on October 18, 2018.
Currently, Christians in North Korea meet in secret. A recent report revealed that Kim Jong-un has put in place “arbitrary executions, political prison camps, and torture amounting to crimes against humanity” against Christians in 2017.
North Korea is officially an atheist country. Catholic priests were expelled from North Korea and the Catholic Church in North Korea is not officially part of the worldwide Catholic Church.
The papal invitation comes alongside many diplomatic efforts from Kim Jong-un in the past months.
When Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, he expressed a desire for unification for the two countries, saying, “the two Koreas are brothers, they speak the same language.”
The estimated number of Catholics in North Korea ranges from 800 to around 3,000. Currently, there are more than 5 million Catholics practicing their faith in South Korea.