According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Tuesday, the invitation to visit Pyongyang will be delivered to the pontiff by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who will be in the Vatican next week as part of his trip to Europe.
“During the meeting with Pope Francis, [President Moon] will relay the message from chairman Kim Jong-un that he would ardently welcome the Pope if he visits [the North Korean capital] Pyongyang,” Moon’s spokesperson, Kim Eui-kyeom, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
If Pope accepts the invitation and pays the visit, he will become the first pontiff who has ever visited North Korea, though the late Pope John Paul II was once invited in 1991. The visit never happened.
Moon’s trip to Europe will include a stop at the Vatican on October 17 and 18 to seek the pontiff’s help in defusing remaining tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.
Yonhap further reported that Kim had casually conversed with South Korean Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong when he accompanied the two leaders of the peninsula as they climbed Mount Paektu together on September 20, the last day of Moon’s trip to North Korea.
North Korea and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations.
“If the Pope visits Pyongyang, we will give him a rousing welcome,” Moon’s spokesperson further quoted Kim as telling the South Korean president during his trip to the North.
There was no immediate response from the Vatican on whether the pontiff would accept the invitation, but he has already shown his interest in helping to establish a lasting peace on the volatile peninsula when he paid a visit to the South in 2014, saying he had come there “thinking of peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.”