South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

During a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican, South Korean President Moon Jae-in shared a message from Kim Jong Un: Please come to North Korea.

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Moon and the pope met behind closed doors in the Apostolic Palace, with South Korean priest Han Hyun-taek serving as an interpreter, shortly after noon local time.

After their meeting on Thursday, the office of the South Korean president said in a statement that a formal invitation to Pyongyang from Kim would follow the more informal message delivered by Moon.

“If the invitation comes, I will surely respond to it, and I can possibly go,” the pope responded, according to the South Koreans.

Moon’s seeking a papal endorsement of the continued efforts to achieve peace on the peninsula. The South Korean president also met with the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to whom Moon reiterated his desire for a peaceful resolution.

Parolin on Wednesday celebrated with a “Mass for Peace” at St. Peter’s Basilica where the leaders prayed for the “gift of peace after years of tension and divisions,” South Korean media reported.

Moon spoke at the end of the service, saying the prayers offered at the mass would be welcomed.

The South Korean president has helped spearhead an accelerated effort to normalize relations between the two Koreas, meeting with Kim three times this year, including at a summit in Pyongyang.

Kim told Moon during their most recent meeting that he wished for the pope to visit North Korea, according to the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office and residence.

The Vatican previously has said a papal trip to North Korea may first require the nation to incorporate changes such as allowing for freedom of religion.

The pope has visited South Korea, but no pontiff has ever been to North Korea, which has very few practicing Christians. Pope Francis also is planning to visit Japan early next year.

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