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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Pope Francis on Thursday said he is willing to visit North Korea if he receives an official invite from the country, in comments made during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Vatican.
Moon, currently midway through a European diplomatic tour, first raised the prospect of an invite to the Pope from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier in the month.
He also indicated last week that he intended to deliver a message from Kim “warmly welcoming” the Pope to Pyongyang during his visit to Rome.
The message, however, appears short of an official invitation.
“The message President Moon delivers is satisfactory and I will be pleased to be sent an official invitation,” the Pope said, according to a statement by the South Korean Presidential spokesperson Yoon Young-chan.
“If I receive an official invitation, I will assuredly respond and I may go,” he was reported to have added.
Should Francis visit Pyongyang, it would represent the first visit by Pope in history.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invited then-Pope John Paul II to the DPRK in 2000, though the visit never took place.
Kim Jong Un’s invitation comes amid broader diplomatic outreach by the DPRK this year, which has seen the North Korean leader take part in several meetings with counterparts from South Korea and China as well as a Singapore summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The North Korean leader has shown a willingness not only to visit foreign countries for the first time but to host leaders in Pyongyang, with Moon visiting the capital city in late September for 2018’s third inter-Korean summit.
The South Korean President was accompanied on that visit by Roman Catholic Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong, with Kim speaking with the DPRK leader during a visit to Mt. Paektu on September 20.
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.
Additional reporting and translation by Dagyum Ji and Colin Zwirko.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Blue House