Pope indicates willingness to visit North Korea - 10/18/2018 8:06:01 AM

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South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

South Korea's president said he was certain peace could be achieved on the Korean Peninsula as he prepared for an audience Thursday with Pope Francis where he's expected to extend an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for Francis to visit.

Pope Francis expressed his willingness Thursday to visit North Korea if officially invited, also saying he will "certainly" respond to such an invitation from the communist state.

Kim told Moon, a Catholic, of his wish to meet the pontiff during a meeting last month and the South Korean leader announced before his trip to Europe that he would be relaying a message.

A trip that would be the first by a pope to officially atheist North Korea would need "serious preparation and consideration", Mr Parolin said.

President Moon Jae-in in an article for the official Vatican newspaper on Tuesday pledged to turn division and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula into prosperity through peace.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and Italian President Sergio Mattarella shake hands before the start of their meeting in Rome on October 17, 2018.

"I hope exchange between the Vatican and North Korea will further increase", he wrote in L'Osservatore Romano. Moon's office quoted the pope as telling Moon: "Do not stop, move forward".

South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

But beyond a handful of state-controlled places of worship - including a Catholic church in the capital of Pyongyang - no open religious activity is allowed and the authorities have repeatedly jailed foreign missionaries.

The South Korean president has helped spearhead an accelerated effort to normalize relations between the two Koreas, meeting with Kim three times this year, including at a summit in Pyongyang. He was set to hold a summit with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte later in the day.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Moon discussed the church's role in promoting "dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans".

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

A meeting with the pope would be the latest in a string of diplomatic initiatives for Kim Jong Un this year.

Religious agencies have estimated the number remaining from the few hundreds to about 4,000.

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