The head of South Korea’s intelligence service, Park Jie-won, has revealed at a mass held at Sanjeong-dong Catholic Church that the country is working with the Vatican to arrange a visit by Pope Francis to North Korea.

Addressing those in attendance at the mass, Park said that he is set to meet with Archbishop Kim Hee-jung of Gwangju and the Vatican’s ambassador to the country to discuss a papal visit to North Korea.

In 2018, South Korean leader Moon Jae-in passed on an invitation from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to the Pope during a meeting at the Vatican. At the time, the Vatican said it would consider such a visit if a written invitation was presented. It’s not known if North Korea has formally invited the Pope.

If the trip goes ahead, it would mark the first time a pope has visited the reclusive country, where foreign missionaries have previously been jailed and no public religious activity is allowed. North Korea’s constitution does, however, guarantee citizens the right to freedom of religion if it does not undermine the state. 

In an interview published recently by Catholic news agency Fides, the bishop of Daejeon, Monsignor Lazzaro You Heung-sik, said: “When I heard the news of the Holy Father’s availability, I was really moved. Since then I have constantly prayed for the Pope’s visit to North Korea to take place.”

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and the Vatican have not released a public statement confirming plans are being drawn up for a papal visit to Pyongyang.

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