Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 09:45 am (CNA).- South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met with Pope Francis today after praying for peace on the Korean peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica. The visit marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Seoul and the Vatican.
“I come to you as president of South Korea, but also as a Catholic. My baptismal name is Matthew,” Moon said as he greeted Pope Francis in the Vatican Apostolic Palace Oct. 18.
The Korean president and the pope discussed their common commitment to fostering initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, according to the Holy See Press Office.
After the papal meeting, Moon met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for the Relations with States, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The evening before the visit, Moon also participated in a “Mass for Peace” on the Korean peninsula celebrated by Cardinal Parolin in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Peace is built with the choices of every day, with a serious commitment to the service of justice and solidarity, with the promotion of the rights and dignity of the human person, and especially through the care of the weakest,” Cardinal Parolin said in his homily.
The chief Vatican diplomat prayed that “even in the Korean Peninsula, after so many years of tensions and division, the word peace can finally resound fully.”
President Moon said after the Mass that their prayers in St. Peter’s will “resound as echoes of hope in the hearts of the people of the two Koreas as well as the people of the whole world who desire peace.”
“Just as your holiness prayed before the U.S.-North Korea summit, we are paving a desirable way toward assuring a peaceful future for the Korean Peninsula and the world,” Moon said.
The pope and the Korean president exchanged gifts, including a medallion of olive branches as a message of peace and a Korean image of the Virgin Mary.
When Pope Francis saw Moon’s gift of a sculpture of the face of Jesus by a Korean artist, he remarked that he could see the suffering of the Korean people in Christ’s crown of thorns.
Last month, Moon traveled to Pyongyang for the third inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. The leaders of the two Koreas pledged to make a joint bid for the 2023 Summer Olympics.
During their meeting, Kim Jung Un asked the South Korean leader to extended an invitation to Pope Francis for a papal visit to North Korea. Kim told Moon that he would “greatly welcome” the pope in Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
A South Korean bishop attending the 2018 Synod of Bishops said last week that a papal visit to Pyongyang would be “a giant step forward for peace on the Korean peninsula,” but cautioned that there must be “some sort of religious freedom” before such a visit takes place.
North Korea has consistently been ranked the worst country for persecution of Christians by Open Doors. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in labor camps, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.
A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
The U.S. State Department estimates that there are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps.
“Only those who have experienced the inscrutable mystery of the apparent absence of God in the face of suffering, oppression and hatred can fully understand what it means to hear the word peace resound again,” Cardinal Parolin said at the Mass for the Korean peninsula.
“I and all my people hold dearly the pope’s message that ‘dialogue is the only solution in every conflict.’ [We] will solemnly walk toward democracy, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and an inclusive nation,” Moon wrote in an article published by Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Oct. 17.
President Moon expressed hope that “exchange between the Vatican and North Korea will further increase.”
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