Pope Francis expressed his willingness Thursday to visit North Korea if officially invited, also saying he will "certainly" respond to such an invitation from the communist state.
The remarks came in a meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who paid a courtesy call on the pope to deliver a verbal invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for the pope to visit Pyongyang.
"The pope said '(I) will unconditionally give an answer if an (official) invitation arrives and I can go'," Moon's top press secretary, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters.
|South Korea`s President Moon Jae-in holds talk with Pope Francis. Yonhap|
Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier said the North Korean leader expressed his willingness to invite the pope to his country in his third and latest inter-Korean summit with Moon in Pyongyang last month.
No pope has ever visited the North.
Moon asked the pope if he may tell the North Korean leader to send an official delegate to invite the pope.
The pope said the verbal invitation relayed by President Moon should be sufficient but that an official invitation would also be nice, according to Yoon.
The pope expressed his support for Moon's efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.
"I strongly support the South Korean government's efforts that are pushing for a peace process on the Korean Peninsula," Pope Francis was quoted as telling Moon through an interpreter.
The meeting between Moon and Pope Francis was held behind closed doors with only South Korean priest Han Hyun-taek serving as the interpreter.
"Move forward without stopping. Do not be afraid," the pope added, according to the Cheong Wa Dae official.
Moon thanked the pope for the support, saying he had always reminded himself of the pope's message that dialogue is the only solution in all conflicts whenever he and his country faced a critical moment in their efforts to establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Cheong Wa Dae said details of a meeting with the pope are traditionally kept confidential but that the Vatican has agreed to make a special exception and allow the release of even some of the pope's remarks.
The Vatican earlier said the pope's meeting with the South Korean leader would mark an exceptional case in that the pontiff usually receives a foreign head of state at around 9:30 a.m. and only for about half an hour.
Thursday's meeting between the pope and the South Korean leader began shortly after Moon arrived in the Holy See at around noon.
"I am pleased to have met you. I am visiting the Vatican as president, but I am also a believer with a baptismal name of Timoteo," Moon said when he was received by the pope, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
"Also, I thank you for taking the time (to meet me) during General Assembly of the Synod of bishops," he said.
Moon arrived in Rome on Tuesday on a three-day official visit to Italy and the Vatican.
Following his meeting with the pope, Moon held a separate meeting with the Vatican's Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
He will leave Italy later in the day to head for Brussels, where he will attend the Asia-Europe Meeting summit.
His trip will end in Denmark on Saturday.