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Pope Francis open to North Korea visit, report says

Pope Francis met with South Korean Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon, according to a South Korean press report. File Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI
Pope Francis met with South Korean Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon, according to a South Korean press report. File Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

April 26 (UPI) -- Pope Francis indicated that he is willing to travel to North Korea when he is ready, citing a need for peace on the Korean Peninsula after decades of national division.

South Korean Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, of Daejeon, told Yonhap that the pope signaled his willingness to visit the Kim Jong Un regime during a meeting at the Vatican.

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The pontiff reportedly said a people with a common ethnicity had lived as a separated family for 70 years. The pope said he sympathized with their pain, the South Korean news agency reported Monday.

Francis previously mentioned an interest in visiting North Korea. In 2018, the pope told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he could travel to the isolated regime, according to Korean press reports.

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The pope never visited North Korea that year, but in December 2018, Marco Impagliazzo, the president of the Community of Sant'Egidio, a lay Catholic association in Rome, visited North Korea for humanitarian cooperation.

The Italian group met with Kim Yong Nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.

Moon, who leaves office in March, has pressed the United States to continue diplomacy with the North under the Biden administration.

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Moon may have mentioned to President Joe Biden their shared identity as Roman Catholics during their first phone call after Biden's inauguration, according to Moon's former diplomatic envoy to Rome, Ambassador Lee Baek-man, in February.

"With the G20 summit to be held in Rome in October of this year, there could be an important discussion about the 'peace process on the Korean Peninsula," Lee said in South Korean publication Firenze's Table.

South Korea's Catholic church has been cooperating with the Vatican on COVID-19 aid to low-income nations, according to Yonhap on Monday.

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Daejeon donated $460,000 to go toward COVID-19 vaccines in the developing world after a request from the Holy See, according to the report.

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