Pope planning North Korea visit, says Seoul intelligence chief

It would be the first ever papal visit to the totalitarian state

Joe Middleton
Thursday 08 July 2021 22:48
<p>Pope Francis greets people, as he arrives at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican for the weekly general audience in mid-June this year</p>

Pope Francis greets people, as he arrives at the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican for the weekly general audience in mid-June this year

Pope Francis is planning a visit to North Korea, according to South Korea’s intelligence chief.

If the trip goes ahead it would be the first by a pontiff to the totalitarian state. Information is sparse on how many of the country’s citizens are Catholic or how they currently practice their faith.

Fides, the official agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said that Park Jie-won, the director of the National Intelligence Service, made the announcement at a Mass in Mokpo, South Korea, on Monday.

Park told participants at the Mass that he would meet with Archbishop Kim Hee-jung of Gwangju and the Vatican’s ambassador to South Korea, Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, to discuss a possible papal visit to Pyongyang.

Pope Francis is currently recovering from intestinal surgery in Rome. His next scheduled trip is to visit Slovakia and Hungary in September. The intelligence agency in Seoul has not publicly confirmed Park’s comments.

The 84-year-old has previously made a number of appeals for for rapprochement between the two Koreas.

In 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in verbally relayed an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the pope. Kim and Moon had met a month earlier.

Vatican officials said afterwards an official written invitation would be considered, but it is not clear if any invitation then arrived.

Monsignor Lazzaro You Heung-sik, the bishop of Daejon in central South Korea, told The Telegraph: “I’m convinced that a possible visit to Pyongyang could represent a turning point, which would allow us Koreans to dialogue and understand each other better, and perhaps even reach the reunification of the South and the North.

“In concrete terms, the Holy Father’s mediation could be a propitious opportunity to put an end to the conflict, the result of mutual distrust between the two parts of the peninsula which has lasted for too many decades.”

North Korea has been sealed off from the rest of the world after closing its borders on January 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic.

Kim Jong Un recently berated top officials for “crucial” failures in coronavirus prevention that he said caused a “great crisis”, with reports of food shortages in the country.

Despite this the the World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week that North Korea reported to it that it has tested 31,794 people for the virus through June 24 and that they all were negative.

Additional reporting by agencies

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