Peace between both Koreas looks nearer after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he would ardently welcome the pope if he visits Pyongyang and has officially invited him over via his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, a presidential spokesman for the Seoul government announced Tuesday.
The South Korean president is to deliver the invitation personally when he meets Francis at the Vatican next week during an official European tour.
Moon will seek the Pope's blessing and support for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and discuss ways for future cooperation with the Vatican, the spokesman said.
Francis, who is said to have brokered the resumption of diplomatic ties between Raúl Castro's Cuba and the United States of Barack Obama following a 50-year estrangement, visited South Korea in 2014 and said Koreans should forgive each other unreservedly if they want peace and reconciliation on the divided peninsula.
The two Koreas have been separated for more than six decades following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
No Holy Father has ever visited North Korea, which is accused of suppressing religious freedom. North Korea boasts of full religious freedom for its 23 million people, having built two protestant churches and a Catholic cathedral in Pyongyang in the late 1980s and a Russian Orthodox church in 2006, but defectors testify to the contrary, saying the churches are for propaganda and open only when outside visitors attend services.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea said in 2014 there was an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion the US State Department's 2017 religious freedom report states that North Korea continues to deal harshly with those who engage in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests.
North Korea runs a massive cult of personality around its late founder Kim Il-sung and his late son Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un.