Monday, 22 July, 2019

Pope ready to visit North Korea if invited -Moon Jae

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Deanna Wagner | 19 October, 2018, 08:43

The meeting took place after North and South Korea belatedly formed a three-way negotiating body with the UNC to finalize disarmament steps that President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un mooted at their summit on September 19.

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Moon's office has said during their summit, Kim said the pope would be "enthusiastically" welcomed in North Korea.

Moon and the pope met behind closed doors in the Apostolic Palace, with South Korean priest Han Hyun-taek serving as an interpreter, shortly after noon local time.

According to the president's office, Francis expressed his strong support for efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

Parolin on Wednesday celebrated with a "Mass for Peace" at St. Peter's Basilica where the leaders prayed for the "gift of peace after years of tension and divisions", South Korean media reported.

The Vatican has no official diplomatic relations with North Korea.

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President Moon Jae-in, who is Catholic, spoke at the end of an evening mass at the Vatican, saying the prayers offered at the service would "resound as echoes of hope in the hearts of the people of the two Koreas as well as the people of the whole world who desire peace".

Officials from North and South Korea and the United Nations have begun talks to turn a border village into an unarmed neutral enclave where military guards and tourists from both sides would move freely across the demarcation line. If it materialises, such a visit would be the first by a pope to North Korea.

Moon also played an important role in setting up June's meeting in Singapore between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

Any trip to the North, however brief, could be contentious for the pope.

The pope has visited South Korea, but no pontiff has ever been to North Korea, which has very few practicing Christians.

The proposed plan to open up the border would also apply to South Korean nationals who have been barred from taking part in such trips, apart from exceptional circumstances, since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953. Pyongyang's constitution purportedly ensures "freedom of religion" as long as it does not undermine the state, although no openly religious activities are allowed. The North is estimated to have around 2,500 Catholics, compared to more than 5.5 million in South Korea.