Seoul's Embassy to the Holy See said the pope indicated his interest during an October meeting with South Korean Ambassador Lee Baek-man, Yonhap reported Thursday. Lee was returning to Seoul following a two-year ambassadorship.
According to the South Korean government, the pope said he "also wanted to visit" the Kim Jong Un regime after Lee said he hopes Francis could "bless the North Korean people" in their homeland, Korean newspaper Herald Business reported Thursday.
South Korea's top diplomat to the Vatican said during the meeting the pope "knows better than anyone that peace on the Korean Peninsula, the last Cold War Zone on Earth, is directly linked to world peace."
"Behind the pope's affirmative intention to visit North Korea is his desire for peace," Lee said after the meeting.
The pope has previously indicated interest in visiting North Korea. In 2018, during a meeting with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the pontiff had said he could travel to the isolated country if Kim sent him an official invitation. Pope Francis had said at the time in Italian, "Sono disponibile," or that he is available for a historic visit to Pyongyang, according to Yonhap.
Seoul said Lee revisited the pope's remarks, asking Francis whether he is still "of the same opinion." The pontiff reportedly said his position remains unchanged.
North Korea has consistently ranked as one of the world's most religiously repressive societies. U.S. nonprofit Open Doors has said the regime ranks number one in the world for religious persecution, a statement Pyongyang has denied.
Last year, North Korea state media reported North Koreans celebrated Christmas Day with services at two Protestant churches, while condemning the "crushing sanctions of the United States."