Pope Francis Invited to Visit North Korea
By Faith Magbanua, October 10, 2018 05:10 AM
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to visit the country. The announcement was released by South Korea's presidential office earlier this week, October 9, 2018.
On the other hand, the invitation to visit Pyongyang will be delivered by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who will be in the Vatican next week as part of a trip to Europe.
What makes the invitation special?
Throughout history, there has been no pope to ever visit North Korea, though the late Pope John Paul II was once invited by Kim Jong-il in 2000. However, after the invitation was given, the pope was quoted as saying it would be "a miracle" if he could go there.
That invitation came at a summit with the then South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung. The visit never happened.
According to news wire the Associated Press, the Vatican insisted at the time that a visit from the pope would only happen if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Meanwhile, according to Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman for President Moon, during the meeting with Pope Francis, President Moon will relay the message from Kim Jong-un that he would eagerly welcome the Pope if ever he visits Pyongyang.
The invitation is the latest reconciliatory gesture from North Korea.
Religious Freedom in North Korea
While North Korea's constitution promises a "right to faith" and state-controlled churches do exist. However, one human rights activist say this is all largely for show.
"In reality, there is no freedom of religion," said Arnold Fang, a researcher from Amnesty International said.
A 2014 UN report found that Christians faced "persecution and severe punishments" if they practiced their religion outside state-controlled churches.
According to news site NK News, North Korea does maintain a Catholic church in Pyongyang - the Jangchung Catholic Church - though it is not officially affiliated with the Vatican.
In addition to that, North Korea also takes a dark outlook towards foreign missionaries.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American evangelist who ran Christian tours of North Korea, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2013 for "anti-government" crimes. He was released in 2014 on health grounds.
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