Pope Francis received an invitation from the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea. A South Korea spokesman confirmed that the Pontiff said he would think carefully about the invitation. This invitation was conveyed by the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in during his visit to the Vatican.
If the Pope accepts the invitation, it would be the first ever visit by a pope to North Korea where priests are not allowed to stay permanently. Vatican chose not to comment whether the Pope would accept or decline the invitation.
During a meeting held last month, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told South Korean President Moon Jae-in to meet Pope Francis and convey his message to him.
South Korean President’s office officially stated that when the Pontiff was asked that if the North Korean leader should send a formal invitation, the Pontiff told the South Korean leader “Your message is already sufficient but it would be good for him to send a formal invitation. I will definitely answer if I get the invitation, and I can go.”
The invitation has sparked controversies among the international community as North Korea has a tarnished track record when it comes to religion. Michael Green, a former National Security Council official stated: “North Korea is the worst oppressor of religion. To physically travel to North Korea and meet with Kim, I fear, would legitimize a leader who is the greatest enemy to religious freedom on the face of the Earth.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that: “The North Korean government’s approach toward religion and belief is among the most hostile and repressive in the world, known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers.” Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA claims that about 50,000 Christians are held in North Korea’s detention centers, prison camps, hard labor camps and re-education camps.