South Korean officials announced Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un requested an official papal visit, despite his regime’s brutal oppression of Christians.
South Korea’s presidential office released a statement saying Kim told President Moon Jae-in during their September summit of his desire for Pope Francis to visit North Korea and that the pontiff would be “enthusiastically welcomed.” The Vatican has denied such requests from North Korea in the past, stating that papal visits would only be possible once Catholic priests are accepted in the country. (RELATED: Front-Line Korean Missionaries Risk Death To Bring The Gospel To North Korea)
Moon said, however, that he would relay Kim’s request to Francis during his upcoming papal audience on Oct. 18, according to The Associated Press.
The Vatican has yet to comment on Kim’s request for a papal visit, though Pope Francis has in the past expressed hope that the divisions between North and South Korea would be healed.
“The two Koreas are brothers; they speak the same language,” Francis said in 2014. “When we speak the same language it is because we have the same mother. And this gives us hope. The pain of the division is great; I understand this and I pray that it may end.”
North Korea expelled, executed or imprisoned its Catholic priests during the Korean War in the 1950s. Since then, the government has installed state-approved clergy who are not in communion with the church in Rome. The North Korean government has notoriously persecuted people of all faiths, but has particularly focused on Christians, who have reportedly suffered the worst treatment at the hands of authorities and labor camp guards.
“Christians are heavily persecuted and receive especially harsh treatment in prison camps, with one former prison guard testifying that ‘Christians were reactionaries and there were lots of instructions … to wipe out the seed of reactionaries,'” reads a report from the International Bar Association War Crimes Committee.
North Korea’s Korean Catholic Association, run by the Communist Party, estimates that there are 3,000 Catholics in the country, though the U.S. Department of State places the number at 800.
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