The Pope ‘is planning to visit North Korea – the first pontiff ever to do so’
- Pope Francis could visit North Korea, South Korea intelligence chief said
- If visit goes ahead, it would be first visit from a pontiff to the totalitarian state
- Kim Jong-un extended an invitation to the pope to visit North Korea in 2018
- Pope said he would consider trip in circumstances if it would help bring peace
Pope Francis could visit North Korea, the head of South Korea’s intelligence services announced on Monday.
If the visit goes ahead, it would be the first time a pontiff has visited the totalitarian state.
Park Jie-won announced he would have a meeting with Archbishop Kim Hee-jung and the Vatican’s ambassador in South Korea, Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, to discuss the potential visit to Pyongyang, according to Agenzia Fides, the news agency of the Vatican.
It is thought that Park told North Korean Catholics at a mass that he planned to meet with officials to plan the trip, The Times reported.
Pope Francis could visit North Korea, which would be the first time a pontiff has visited the totalitarian state
It is believed there are several hundred North Korean Catholics who practise their faith under the North Korean Catholic Association and not the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The North Korean leader extended an invitation to the Pope to visit North Korea in 2018, when Kim Jong-un arrived for a meeting with a US Secretary of State.
The Pope said he would consider a trip to the country in certain circumstances if it could help bring peace.
A spokesman for South Korean president Moon Jae-in said Kim invited Pope Francis to Pyongyang.
Kim Eui-kyeom said: ‘Chairman Kim said he will “ardently welcome the Pope if he visits Pyongyang”.’
The announcement confirmed President Moon’s plan to visit Europe the following week, which included a trip to the Vatican where the South Korean leader was going to pass on the message.
Pope Francis is currently recovering from intestinal surgery, it was announced by Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni.
In a statement late on Sunday, he said the pontiff, 84, ‘responded well’ to the surgery, which the Vatican had said earlier had been scheduled.
The spokesman gave no further details about the surgery and did not say how long the pope would remain in hospital.
The Pope said he would consider a trip to the country in certain circumstances if it could help bring peace
Mr Bruni said Francis was suffering from ‘symptomatic diverticular stenosis’ of the colon, a condition that can cause recurrent abdominal pain, bloating and changes in bowel habits.
The operation took place on Sunday in Rome’s Gemelli hospital, which is the institution where popes receive medical treatment. It is the first time the pope has been admitted to hospital since his election in 2013.
North Korea closed its borders in January last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the country now faces food shortages as imports and aid into North Korea have all-but stopped after the country closed its borders to stop it importing Covid cases, it was reported in April.
Meanwhile a series of typhoons that hit last summer led to widespread devastation on farmland just before harvest season.
North Korea has so far claimed to have had no coronavirus infections, despite testing thousands of people and sharing a porous border with China – the source of the disease.
Experts say the claim is highly dubious and have warned that any outbreak could easily overwhelm the isolated country’s poor health infrastructure.
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