The Vatican’s recent diplomatic appointment to South Korea gained added significance as President Donald Trump announced that he will meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un for nuclear negotiations within the next two months.
Pope Francis’ appointed Monsignor Alfred Xuereb to serve as the Apostolic Nuncio to Korea beginning March 19.
"As the pope continually shows his concern for the reconciliation of the two Koreas and [prays for] peace on the Korean Peninsula, the new nuncio will play an active role in bridging the gap between the two Koreas and working for peace in the region," said the Acting Apostolic Nuncio to Korea, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, according to UCA news.
Monsignor Xuereb, who previously served as a private secretary to both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, will be consecrated a bishop as he takes up his first diplomatic posting for the Vatican.
Although he lacks the diplomatic experience of his predecessors in the Korean nunciature, the Maltese cleric is reported to be close to Pope Francis.
"Monsignor Xuereb is one of the closest allies of Pope Francis and reads the pope's thinking very well," continued Monsignor Sprizzi.
Trump announced March 8 that he had accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to negotiate the North’s nuclear weapons program. Trump will be the first sitting U.S. president to meet face to face with a North Korean leader.
Trump followed up yesterday’s announcement with calls to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the prospect of dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea and to confirm a shared commitment to maintaining sanctions until tangible steps toward denuclearization are taken, according to the White House.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in helped to facilitate the upcoming meeting between the U.S. and North Korea. Moon sent his National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong to Pyongyang on Monday and then quickly on to Washington to convey the North Korean leader’s invitation to Trump.
Moon is a practicing Catholic who has pledged himself to peaceful dialogue on the Korean peninsula. Shortly after taking office in Seoul, Moon commissioned a Korean envoy to meet with Pope Francis in Rome last May to advocate for Vatican support for Korean reconciliation.
Catholic bishops in South Korea have long advocated for a peaceful solution on the Korean peninsula. In response to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, the bishops appealed for peace talks in an official statement in Aug. 2017.
“The ultimate and genuine peace on the Korean Peninsula can never be achieved by nuclear armament. Therefore we urge the authorities of North and South Korea to open dialogue for peace and to cooperate with the surrounding countries of Korea in search of a stable system to guarantee peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Korean bishops continued, “we encourage the faithful Catholics in Korea to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring peace on the Korean Peninsula … We desperately ask our brothers and sisters in the world for their care, prayers, discernment, and cooperation to resolve this crisis on the Korean Peninsula peacefully.”