North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to visit the country, South Korea’s presidential office has announced.
The invitation to visit the capital city, Pyongyang, will be delivered by South Korean president Moon Jae-in who will be in the Vatican next week as part of a trip to Europe.
This is not the first time a pope has been invited to North Korea.
North Korea and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations.
“During the meeting with Pope Francis, [Mr Moon] will relay the message from chairman Kim Jong-un that he would ardently welcome the Pope if he visits Pyongyang,” Mr Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, told reporters.
The invitation is the latest reconciliatory gesture from North Korea.
Mr Kim held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump earlier this year and three inter-Korean summits also took place.
In 2000, Kim Jong-un’s father – Kim Jong-il – invited Pope John Paul II to visit North Korea after the pope was quoted as saying it would be “a miracle” if he could go there.
That invitation came at a summit with the then South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung. The visit never happened.
Does the North have religious freedom?
North Korea’s constitution promises a “right to faith” but a 2014 UN report said Christians face “persecution and severe punishments” if they practiced their religion outside state-controlled Churches.
North Korea also takes a dim view of foreign missionaries.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American evangelist who ran Christian tours of North Korea, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in 2013 for “anti-government” crimes. He was released in 2014 on health grounds.