South Korean President: North Would Welcome Pope

The Vatican reacted cautiously, but John Paul II has expressed a desire to visit North Korea

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There is no known Roman Catholic community in North Korea.

Fides said there are about 4,000 North Koreans belonging to a Catholic association it described as even more tied to the state than China's state-controlled Catholic church, which is not affiliated with the Vatican.

The recent opening of an Italian embassy in North Korea would certainly facilitate contacts between the Vatican and Pyongyang. South Korean officials view the North's willingness to invite the pope as another sign of the communist country opening up after long isolation.

However, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of Fides, insisted that a visit could only take place "as soon as certain preconditions" relating to easing religious restrictions are fulfilled.

According to Cervellera, who has spent several years working in Asia and is considered an expert on the Catholic Church in Asia, preconditions for a visit would include the recognition of the Catholic church, reopening the country to Catholic priests and the reunification of the churches.

He said a key first step towards a papal visit would for the north to invite Seoul's Archbishop Nicholas Cheong, who is responsible for Pyongyang but is forbidden from visiting.

John Paul has showed an active interest in concerns of the two Korean states, giving thousands of dollars from his charities to famine-stricken North Korea and encouraging others to do likewise.

Two days before the inter-Korean summit began Tuesday, the pope issued a special statement encouraging the two Korean leaders to make peace. Speaking last Sunday, John Paul said he hoped the historic summit between North and South Korea would lead to reconciliation and help reunite long-separated families on the peninsula.

The pope said the summit offered cause for ``joyous hope'' for all humanity.

Vatican officials have made at least two other visits since then.

Meanwhile, the Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, Altan Guven, said Friday that the pope will visit Turkey next year.

"We will see next year, if I am still alive," the pope repoirtedly told Guven during an audience at the Vatican, in repsonse to an invitation extended by the Grand Mufti Nuri Yilmaz, Turkey's Muslim religious leader.

The pope had originally been invited to visit Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, by former president Suleyman Demiral two years ago.

Guzen said no mention was made during the audience of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who was given an Italian presidential pardon Tuesday for attempting to kill the pontiff in 1981.

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