South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

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South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

Pope Francis on Thursday received an invitation to visit North Korea and the pontiff indicated he would consider making what would be a landmark trip to a nation known for severe restrictions on religious practice, according to South Korean officials.

The goal of the meeting was for Moon Jae-in to deliver a special message from the North Korean leader: that Kim Jong Un would welcome the pope into his country if he visits Pyongyang.

"If the invitation comes, I will surely respond to it, and I can possibly go", the pope responded, according to the South Koreans.

No pope has ever visited the North.

The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy - in which God promises the people of Israel that although they are "dispersed to the farthest corner of the heavens, even from there will the Lord, your God, gather you" - reflects the prospects of peace between North and South Korea, he said.

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In an article in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Moon praised Francis for his promotion of dialogue and said he hoped that the Korean peace initiative could also help the Vatican forge relations with the North.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in greets Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, before a Mass for peace for the Korean peninsula in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 17.

Francis said it represented "his desire for peace" on the Korean peninsula.

"Our prayers today will turn into reality for sure", he added.

Church officials estimate that North Korea had a Catholic community of about 55,000 just before the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.

Francis, however, has taken a less-absolutist approach in the Holy See's diplomacy, as evidenced by the recent deal over bishop nominations signed with China, North Korea's closest ally.

Following his meeting with the pope, Moon held a separate meeting with the Vatican's Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people.

A meeting with Pope Francis would be the latest in a string of major diplomatic meetings for Kim Jong Un this year.

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