Pope Francis expects a formal invitation from the North Korean leader.
Pope Francis has given the indication he is open to making an official trip to North Korea , a country topping the 50 nation list for the worst persecution of Christians. The list was prepared by Open Doors, a Christian watchdog. Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, relayed the invitation from Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, to the pontiff during a 35-minute meeting held between the two leaders.
If the pope does make a visit, it will be the first for any papal head to touch down on the reclusive Asian country known for its unwillingness to allow priests to be permanently stationed. Information is scarce on the number of Catholics in North Korea or how they keep their faith. Pope Francis has expressed strong support for multiple tries to make peace in the Korean peninsula. As per President Moon's office, the pope has asked the South Korean leader to move forward and not be afraid. When President Moon asked the pope as to whether he needs a formal invitation, the pontiff said the message brought by Francis is sufficient, but it would be better for the North Korean President to send a formal invite.
Pope Francis is expected to make a trip to Asia in 2019. He is scheduled to make a visit to Japan next year. The Vatican declined to answer any questions regarding Kim's verbal invitation. For the pope, any trip to North Korea could be a contentious issue. The country's constitution does not bar religious freedom insofar it does not seem to destabilize the state. In practicality, however, religious activity is not allowed outside a few state administered places of worship.
According to people close to the pope, Francis is open to take first steps in certain places where churchgoers were and continue to be prosecuted in the hope that the situation may improve. North Korea is a particularly potent example. The country housed a 55,000 strong Catholic community prior to the Korean War. The war lasted three years, from 1950 to 1953. As per estimates by religious agencies, the number of remaining Catholics vary from 4,000 people to as few as a few hundred.
Kim, the North Korean leader, clearly wants to transform his dangerous and eccentric pariah state leader image and remold himself into a player on the world diplomatic stage. The Supreme Leader of North Korea has corresponded and met with U.S. President Donald Trump as a part of his outreach.