SEOUL, South Korea — The Vatican has no immediate comment on a statement from South Korea’s presidential office that the North Korean leader wants Pope Francis to visit officially.
But the head of the Vatican press office released a statement Tuesday saying that the pope would receive South Korean President Moon-Jae-in an audience at the Vatican on Oct. 18.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the audience will come a day after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrates a Mass for peace for the Korean Peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica. Moon will participate in the Mass.
Francis visited South Korea in August 2014. On the plane ride back to Rome, he expressed hope that the divisions would be overcome, saying “the two Koreas are brothers, they speak the same language.”
South Korea said on Tuesday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants Francis to visit the officially atheist country.
South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that Kim told Moon during their summit last month that the pope would be “enthusiastically” welcomed in North Korea.
Kim has been intensely engaged in diplomacy in recent months in what’s seen as an effort to leverage his nuclear weapons program for an easing of economic sanctions and military pressure.
North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people, and a similar invitation for then-Pope John Paul II to visit after a 2000 inter-Korean summit never resulted in a meeting. The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.