Korean president set for meeting with Pope Francis

Korean president set for meeting with Pope Francis

Moon's office has reported that during the summit, Kim said the pope would be "enthusiastically" welcomed in North Korea - a message he is due to deliver at Thursday's audience.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Friday expressed hope that Pope Francis' potential visit to North Korea will help speed up denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The office said Francis said that "if the invitation comes, I will surely respond to it, and I can possibly go".

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.

"I and [Kim] adopted the historic [joint declaration] in September in Pyongyang", Moon said, adding that the North has not conducted any further nuclear or missile tests, while South Korea and the US have suspended massive joint exercises.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a special mass for peace on the Korean Peninsula celebrated by Vatican's secretary of state Pietro Parolin at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Oct. 17, 2018, in Rome.

Earlier Thursday, Moon wrapped up his three-day visit to Italy and the Vatican.

Addressing those present after the Mass, President Moon said the historic signing of the Pyongyang Joint Declaration between North and South Korea as well as their commitment to ending the decades-long military confrontation were "blazing the trail for a noble endeavor that will secure the future of peace for the Korean Peninsula and the whole world". Moon's office quoted the pontiff telling Moon: "Do not stop, move forward".

A Vatican statement made no mention of the verbal invitation from North Korea's Kim. He was set to hold a summit with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte later in the day. Kim also held an unprecedented summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, and promised to work toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

But beyond a handful of state-controlled places of worship - including a Catholic church in the capital Pyongyang - no open religious activity is allowed and the authorities have repeatedly jailed foreign missionaries. Previous popes had refused to cut a deal with China's communist leaders, who allow religious practice only in state-sanctioned churches.

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