About the Author
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet Pope Francis in the Vatican next week, where he will deliver the message from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he is welcome in Pyongyang, presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-keum said Tuesday.
Speaking during a briefing detailing President Moon’s schedule for his trip to several European countries next week, he said Moon will convey a message he took as an invitation from Kim Jong Un “warmly welcoming the Pope to visit Pyongyang.”
Moon, himself a practicing Roman Catholic, is scheduled to make an official visit to the Vatican from October 17-18, where he will “seek to reconfirm blessings and support from the Vatican for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula” during discussions, the Blue House spokesperson said.
Kim also brought up the interactions between the North Korean leader and Roman Catholic Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong at Mt. Paektu last month, who was invited to join the South Korean delegation alongside President Moon.
While Moon, Kim, and members of both sides made casual conversation at the symbolic mountain’s peak on September 20, the Archbishop said he would convey to Pope Francis that inter-Korean relations were “improving and moving in the direction of peace,” Kim said during Tuesday’s briefing.
Hearing the Archbishop’s words, Kim Jong Un then responded by saying he “certainly must convey” this to the Pope, according to the presidential spokesperson.
Kim did not provide further details regarding any plans for the North Korean leader to formally invite to the Pope to North Korea.
The Vatican did not provide comment when contacted by NK News for a statement Tuesday, but said President Moon will attend a “‘Mass for Peace’ for the Korean Peninsula” in St. Peter’s Basilica on October 17, presided over by Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
A similar situation occurred in June 2000 after then-President Kim Dae-jung returned from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, telling the press he would convey an invitation to visit Pyongyang to Pope John Paul II.
Though the Vatican confirmed their receipt at the time of an official invitation delivered on behalf of Kim Jong Il by the South Korean ambassador in Rome, the Pope did not in the end travel to North Korea.
Pope Francis has also this year expressed support for ongoing improving inter-Korean relations, saying the April 27 Panmunjom summit represented “a concrete route toward reconciliation and regained brotherhood with the aim of guaranteeing peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the entire world.”
North Korea maintains a Catholic church in Pyongyang, the Jangchung Catholic Church, though it is not affiliated with the Holy See.
DPRK state media most recently reported on the church in August through unification-focused outlet Ryomyong, saying a mass prayer there called for “self-determined” unification of the two Koreas.
President Moon will embark for Europe on October 13, spending seven days traveling to France, Italy, Belgium, and Denmark in addition to the Vatican.