South Korean President Moon Jae-in will deliver Kim’s invitation when he meets Francis next week during a trip to Europe, Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said on Tuesday.
Kim has been intensely engaged in diplomacy in recent months in what is being seen as an effort to leverage his nuclear weapons programme for an easing of economic sanctions and military pressure.
North Korea and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations. The invitation to the pope is the first by a North Korean leader since 2000.
“President Moon will visit the Vatican on October 17 and 18 to reaffirm its blessing and support for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” the spokesperson told a news briefing.
Kim told Moon of his wish to meet the pope during last month’s summit of the two leaders, the spokesperson added.
“When he meets Pope Francis, he will convey Chairman Kim’s message that he will ardently welcome him if he visits Pyongyang,” he said.
North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as it does not undermine the state, but beyond a handful of state-controlled places of worship, no open religious activity is allowed.
Francis visited South Korea in August 2014. On the plane ride back to Rome, he had expressed hope that the divisions would be overcome, saying “the two Koreas are brothers, they speak the same language.”
In 2014, a Roman Catholic cardinal had travelled to North Korea at a time of rekindled animosity between the neighbouring countries.
The Vatican had no immediate comment on the North Korean leader’s invite.
But a statement released by the Vatican said the pope would receive Moon on October 18, a day after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrates a mass for peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula
Kim held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, and pledged to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
While Kim’s actions since have fallen short of Washington’s demands, the Trump administration is preparing for a second summit.
The two Koreas held three summits this year, following years of confrontation marked by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
Moon’s Europe tour, scheduled for October 13 to 21, is primarily to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting in Belgium and includes stops in France, Italy and Denmark, his office said.