Will Pope Francis become the first pope to visit North Korea?

South Korean Church and political leaders see a papal visit to Pyongyang as a tool for peace on the Korean Peninsula

A senior South Korean politician has claimed that state-level efforts are underway for a papal trip to North Korea, billing it as a precursor for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

Park Jie-won, a senior politician and director of the National Intelligence Service in South Korea, recently said that state-level efforts are underway for a papal visit to North Korea.

He spoke about the possible papal trip to the communist nation during a special ceremony to mark the Vatican’s recognition of Sanjeong-dong Catholic Church at Mokpo in Gwangju Archdiocese as a minor basilica on July 6, reported the Vatican’s Fides news agency.

Park said he has been engaged in preliminary work for the papal trip and he would soon meet Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jong of Gwangju and Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, the apostolic nuncio in South Korea, to talk about the pope visiting Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Park is a former parliamentarian from Mokpo. He served as the chief secretary of President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and as the minister of culture, sports and tourism. He is credited with playing an important role in organizing the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

His comments are the latest in a series of optimistic views from religious and political leaders in South Korea about a papal visit to the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

In March, Catholic leaders in South Korea launched a special prayer campaign for a papal trip to North Korea and for peace in the region.

During a meeting of the Korean Bishops’ Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People on March 11, bishops expressed hope that a papal visit to North Korea would happen one day.

“There are different barriers against peace on the Korean Peninsula, but we hope strongly that a papal visit to North Korea will be possible one day. We are already producing various books on peace, reconciliation and unity to reinforce and awaken peace in the mind of people,” said Bishop Peter Ki-heon Lee of Uijeongbu, chairman of the committee.

The former South Korean ambassador to the Vatican, Lee Min-Baek, who also attended the meeting, noted that a papal trip and better diplomatic engagement are vital for peace in Northeast Asia.

(Rock Ronald Rozario / Ucanew)

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