Pope accepts Kim Jong-un's invitation to North Korea

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South Korea's president said he was certain peace could be achieved on the Korean Peninsula ahead of an audience on Thursday with Pope Francis where he's expected to extend an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit the reclusive country.

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Moon and the pope met behind closed doors in the Apostolic Palace, with South Korean priest Han Hyun-taek serving as an interpreter, shortly after noon local time.

In a statement, the Vatican said: "Strong appreciation was expressed for the common commitment to fostering all useful initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development". The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951.

Moon spoke at the end of the service, saying the prayers offered at the mass would be welcomed.

"When President Moon asked the Pope if it would be all right for Kim to send an invitation ... the Pope said: "What you just told me is enough, but it would be good if a formal invitation is sent", he said, speaking in Korean. 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.

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And as seen from the level of welcome and firsts for President Moon's visit, ... like the special mass for peace even during the busy weeks of Synod, or the meeting with bishops from around the world, ... there's optimism the Pope may in fact make the historic trip.

North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as it does not undermine the state.

It is unknown whether the Vatican will insist on North Korea accepting Catholic priests in the country as a pre-condition for a papal visit, something that has always been a prerequisite for an improvement of its relations with the North.

The South Korean president has helped spearhead an accelerated effort to normalize relations between the two Koreas, meeting with Kim three times this year, including at a summit in Pyongyang. Estimates of the number of North Korean Catholics range from 800 to about 3,000, compared to more than 5 million in South Korea.

"Our prayers today will turn into reality for sure", the South Korean leader said.

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