North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has invited Pope Francis to meet in Pyongyang, a South Korean spokesman said Tuesday.
Pope Francis is already set to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in Oct. 18 for an audience at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, where Moon will personally deliver the invitation from Kim Jong Un.
President Moon, a Catholic, will also participate in a Mass for peace on the Korean peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 17 celebrated by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
During the most recent summit between Korean leaders in September, Kim told Moon that he would “greatly welcome” the pope in Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
On Oct. 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea to discuss details for a second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim to continue negotiation of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, according to the State Department.
“One of the key pillars of the statement between Chairman Kim and President Trump was that we would have better relationships, confidence-building measures. We would fundamentally change the nature of North Korea’s relationship with the rest of the world,” Secretary Pompeo told press in South Korea on Oct. 8 after the meeting with Kim.
Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher visited the Joint Security Area on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea on July 5, where he said, “it is a very historic period, a period of hope and the Holy Father is supporting that movement.”
“I am sure with the prayers and support of Christians and other men and women in good faith around the world that many good things will be achieved in the coming months. We pray for that,” Archbishop Gallagher said during the visit.
Diplomatic negotiations continued at the third inter-Korean summit between Kim and Moon, which took place on Sept. 18 in Pyongyang during a week in which Catholics in South Korea celebrated the peninsula's martyr saints.
The First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, participated in the Mass with Korean bishops as a part of the festivities. She asked for prayers for the diplomatic negotiations at Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral days prior to heading to Pyongyang for the summit.
Twenty-five million people live in North Korea, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.
South Korean bishops have been leading Catholics in prayer for the reconciliation and unity of the divided Korean peninsula for decades.
“Since 1965, the Korean Catholic Church has been praying for the true peace of the two Koreas and the reconciliation of the nation,” Archbishop Kim Hee-Jung of Gwangju wrote in April following the first meeting between the Korean leaders. chairman of the Korean bishops’ conference in April.
“Through these prayers, something miraculous is happening in this land by the help of God for whom nothing will be impossible,” Archbishop Kim continued.
“Until the day when complete peace is established on the Korean peninsula and divided peoples are united, the Catholic Church of Korea will accompany the journey for reconciliation of the people in unity.”