World News

Vatican Mum on North Korea’s Invitation to Pope Francis

Posted October 18, 2018 1:53 p.m. EDT

ROME — Pope Francis received an invitation Thursday to visit North Korea, a message relayed to him in a private audience at the Vatican with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

Moon, who is Roman Catholic, passed along the verbal invitation from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. South Korean officials said the pope had suggested that he would consider a visit if he received an official invitation.

The Vatican did not comment on Francis’ reaction to the offer.

The possibility of an invitation was raised this month, when Moon suggested that Kim invite the pope to North Korea, said Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s spokesman.

The pope has repeatedly expressed a wish for dialogue and reconciliation between the governments of North and South Korea, and has urged the faithful across the globe to pray for it.

No pope, however, has visited North Korea, whose totalitarian government has repressed religious activities and promotes a personality cult around Kim, his father and grandfather.

A statement described the discussion as “cordial” and noted the “positive contribution offered by the church in the social, education and health care sectors, as well as the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans.”

The statement said that South Korea and the Vatican were committed to encouraging initiatives “to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development.”

The pope gave Moon an olive branch as a present during their 35-minute meeting, noting the Vatican’s long-standing interest in peace on the peninsula.

“Move forward without stopping. Don’t be afraid,” the pope told Moon, according to Yoon.

The South Korean president was in Rome as part of a weeklong European trip to reassure Western leaders of Kim’s commitment to the peace process. The Vatican’s support could help broaden collaboration within the international community in that process.

Moon was in attendance Wednesday evening as Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, celebrated a Mass for peace and reconciliation.

“We do this by praying in particular so that on the Korean Peninsula, after so many years of tensions and division, the word ‘peace’ can finally, completely resound,” Parolin said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Moon thanked the Vatican for its support at the end of the Mass.

“Right now on the Korean Peninsula, historic and heartwarming changes are taking place,” Moon said.