North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has invited Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
The invitation will be delivered by South Korean President Moon Jae-in next week during his visit to the Vatican as part of a trip to Europe.
"During the meeting with Pope Francis, [Moon] will relay the message from Chairman Kim Jong-un that he would ‘greatly welcome’ the Pope if he visits Pyongyang," Moon's spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, told reporters.
While no pope has ever visited the Hermit Kingdom, Pope John Paul II was invited once.
A papal visit to Pyongyang risks courting controversy for the Vatican, which recently signed a contentious agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in the world’s most populous country. North Korea has among the world’s worst human-rights records and operates a network of political prison camps where survivors have said they were subjected to torture, forced labor and starvation.
The Vatican doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, which has a history of suppressing religion, but the two sides have had informal contacts over the years. (WSJ)
The Vatican has not yet issued a direct response to the invitation, but Cardinal Pietro Parolin will celebrate a "Mass for Peace" for the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 17 at St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican secretary of state said.
North Korea has ranked No. 1 on Open Doors's World Watch List for the last 14 years. The annual report ranks the 50 countries where Christians are most severely persecuted.