Pope Francis addresses Vatican crowds prior to colon surgery
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The plans would mark the first-ever papal trip to Kim Jong-un’s hermit nation. Among the lesser-known nations Pope Francis has visited include Albania, Bosnia, Paraguay and the Central African Republic
One of the main themes of the 84-year-old Pope’s papacy has been to reach out to what he calls the “periphery” – obscure countries with small or even non-existent Catholic communities.
The Vatican announced he would be travel to Hungary and Slovakia in September and he has set his sights on North Korea.
According to Fides, a Vatican news agency, the head of South Korea’s intelligence service is working on a possible visit to North Korea.
Father Dinh Anh Nhue Nguyen, the director of Fides news agency, said: “Along with all the Korean faithful, we hope that, if it is God’s will, Pope Francis can visit North Korea to initiate a new era of peace.”
He said a visit by the Pope could encourage a “reconciliation, harmony and unity”.
Father Dinh continued: “It would be a moment of grace and blessing for the entire peninsula.”
Monsignor Lazzaro You Heung-sik, the bishop of Daejon in central South Korea, said: “I’m convinced that a possible visit to Pyongyang could represent a turning point, which would allow us Koreans to dialogue and understand each other better, and perhaps even reach the reunification of the South and the North.
“In concrete terms, the Holy Father’s mediation could be a propitious opportunity to put an end to the conflict, the result of mutual distrust between the two parts of the peninsula which has lasted for too many decades.”
This is not the first time the prospect of Pope Francis journeying to North Korea has been discussed.
Back in 2018, during an audience at the Vatican with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the Pope expressed his willingness to visit Pyongyang.
Plans for an apostolic visit fell through after talks between Kim and former US President Donald Trump broke down in 2019.
To date, no Pope has ever visited North Korea and there are no diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Pyongyang.
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The Catholic Church in North Korea retains a community of several hundred adherents who practice under the supervision of the state-established Korean Catholic Association (KCA) rather than the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The dioceses of the Church have remained vacant since Christian persecutions in the late 1940s.
Back in January, the Pope was forced to cancel a number of events due to his “troublesome” sciatica, including several papal visits.
Pope Francis has suffered from sciatica, a painful nerve condition, for many decades.
In the past, the Pope has opened up about struggling with a suffering bout of sciatica after he was elected head of the Catholic Church in 2013.
He told reporters: “The worst thing that happened – excuse me – was an attack of sciatica – really! – that I had the first month, because I was sitting in an armchair to do interviews and it hurt.
“Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone!”
As a result of sciatica, the Pope walks with a slight limp.
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