North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to visit his country, according to the South Korean presidential office.
As reported by BBC News, Kim’s invitation to Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang will be officially delivered by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who will be in the Vatican next week. Moon will embark on a nine-day trip to Europe this Saturday, during which he will visit France and Italy.
“During the meeting with Pope Francis, [Mr. Moon] will relay the message from chairman Kim Jong-un that he would ardently welcome the Pope if he visits [the North Korean capital] Pyongyang,” Kim Eui-kyeom, Moon’s spokesman, told reporters.
Although the late Pope John Paul II was once invited to visit the Asian nation, no pope has ever set foot in North Korea, which has no formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Back in 2000, Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il invited Pope John Paul II to visit North Korea after the pope reportedly said it would be “a miracle” if he could go to the controversial nation.
The invitation was then officially handed during a summit with the then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, but the visit never actually took place.
According to the Associated Press, the Vatican insisted at the time that a visit from the pontiff to the northern part of the Korean peninsula would only happen if Catholic priests were to be accepted in the country, the BBC reported.
The constitution in North Korea supposedly allows their citizens a “right to faith” and state-controlled churches exist, but human rights activists claim is all just a facade.
“In reality, there is no freedom of religion,” said Arnold Fang, an Amnesty International researcher.
The BBC also said North Korea has a Catholic church in Pyongyang, the Jangchung Catholic Church, but it is not officially affiliated with the Vatican. The United Nation estimates there are only around 800 Catholics in the country.
Kim Jong-un’s invitation is the latest move from North Korea that shows the country is working toward building more relationships with the rest of the world. Earlier this year, Kim held an unprecedented summit with United States President Donald Trump. North Korea and South Korea have also had three summits since the beginning of 2018.
Donald Trump said during a meeting with the South Korean president in New York that the U.S.’s relationship with North Korea was “very good and in some ways, extraordinary.”