South Korea’s president said he was certain peace could be achieved on the Korean Peninsula ahead of an audience on Thursday with Pope Francis where he’s expected to extend an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit the reclusive country.
President Moon Jae-in, who is Catholic, spoke at the end of an evening mass at the Vatican, saying the prayers offered at the service would “resound as echoes of hope in the hearts of the people of the two Koreas as well as the people of the whole world who desire peace”.
“Our prayers today will turn into reality for sure,” he said. “We will achieve peace and overcome division without fail.”
The South Korean leader signed a broad agreement with Kim last month designed to reduce military tensions on the Peninsula. Moon’s office announced during their summit that Kim said the pope would be “enthusiastically” welcomed in North Korea.
Moon also played an important role in setting up June’s meeting in Singapore between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
In an article in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Moon praised Pope Francis for his promotion of dialogue and said he hoped the Korean peace initiative could help the Vatican forge relations with the North.
He wrote that when he visited Pyongyang in September for the summit, he was joined by a Korean Catholic bishop to try and improve relations between the church in North and South Korea.
North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people, and a similar invitation to Pope John Paul II to visit after the Inter-Korean Summit that was held in 2000 never resulted in a meeting. The Vatican insisted at the time a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Francis, however, has taken a less absolutist approach and recently agreed to a deal with China over bishop nominations, which only allows religious practice in state-sanctioned churches.
North Korea expelled the Vatican’s priests long ago and state-appointed laymen officiate services. Estimates of the number of North Korean Catholics range from 800 to about 3,000, compared with more than five million in South Korea.