Kim Jong-un’s invitation for Pope Francis to visit North Korea condemned as propaganda stunt
Two churches were constructed in Pyongyang in the 1980s, along with a Russian Orthodox church that was completed in 2006, but Mr Song said they are merely for show and that “the church is just a puppet to the Kim family”.
After interviewing dozens of defectors, the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry concluded there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in North Korea, while the US State Department’s 2017 paper on religious freedoms in the North said the government exacts harsh punishments on those who insist on following their religion, including executions, torture, beatings and arrest.
The Catholic church estimated that there were around 55,000 followers of the Catholic religion in North Korea when the Korean War broke out in 1950, but that figure is believed to have dwindled to a maximum of 4,000.
Kim Jong-il, the father of the present North Korean leader, invited Pope John Paul II to North Korea in 2000. The trip never materialised, however, reportedly because the Vatican insisted at the time that the Pope would only visit if Catholic priests were permitted to worship in the North.
“It’s impossible for the Pope to go”, said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on the North Korean leadership.
“To permit religious freedoms would undermine the cult of personality that has been built up around the Kim family, so this offer is solely designed to deflect criticisms over human rights”, he said.
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