North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to make an official visit to Pyongyang. The invitation will be delivered to the Vatican by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, himself a Catholic, when he is in Europe on official business. It is a highly unexpected move, particularly as the Vatican and North Korea have no formal diplomatic relations and North Korean Catholics are routinely executed by state forces. Mr Moon will relay the message from chairman Kim that the Pope would be “enthusiastically” welcomed in North Korea should he accept the invitation.
North Korea is currently the most hostile nation on earth for Christians to live in, with many being tortured and executed for their faith. “If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate,” according to Open Doors. “Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes.” When Pope Francis visited South Korea back in 2014, some 800,000 people attended a mass in Seoul during which the Pontiff pushed for the reunification of the two Koreas.
At the time of that visit, a request asking the North Korea state-run Korean Catholic Association to send a delegation for the Papal visit was quickly declined. The association did not object to the Pope’s visit, but instead took issue with a “joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise that started the very day of the reconciliation Mass.” The landmark invite comes after a period of warming relations between North and South Korea which culminated in a historic summit that took place earlier this year. In June, President Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Singapore for the first ever meeting between a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea.
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