North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit the officially atheist country, South Korea said Tuesday. South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that Kim told President Moon Jae-in during their summit last month that the pope would be “enthusiastically” welcomed in North Korea. Kim has been intensely engaged in diplomacy in recent months in what’s seen as an effort to leverage his nuclear weapons program for an easing of economic sanctions and military pressure.
North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people, and a similar invitation for then-Pope John Paul II to visit after a 2000 inter-Korean summit never resulted in a meeting. The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Moon plans to convey Kim’s desire for a papal visit when he travels to the Vatican next week. Moon said on Monday that he expects Kim to visit Russia soon and possibly hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Vatican did not comment on the possibility of a papal visit. But immediately after the news, the Vatican press office released a statement confirming that the pope would receive South Korea’s president in an audience at the Vatican on Oct. 18.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the audience will come a day after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrates a Mass for peace on the Korean Peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica, where Moon will participate.
Francis visited South Korea in August 2014. On the plane ride back to Rome, he expressed hope that the divisions would be overcome, saying “the two Koreas are brothers, they speak the same language.”
“When you speak the same language it is because you have the same mother, and this gives us hope,” the pope said. “The suffering of the division is great, and I understand this and pray that it ends.”
North Korea’s reported overture comes a few weeks after the Vatican signed a landmark deal with Communist China, North Korea’s closest ally, over bishop nominations, aimed at ending decades of tensions that contributed to dividing the Chinese church and hampered efforts at improving relations between China and the Vatican.
Following an unusually provocative run of weapons tests last year, Kim has been on a diplomatic offensive since the start of this year.
He initiated offers for summits with Seoul and Washington, which led to three meetings with Moon and a highly choreographed June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump at which they issued an aspirational goal of a nuclear-free peninsula, without describing how or when it would occur.
Kim has presented himself as an international statesman, sharing food, wine and laughs with South Korean officials and appearing thoroughly at ease during his meeting with Trump in Singapore.
But post-summit nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States got off to a rocky start, with the North accusing Washington of making “gangster-like” unilateral demands for denuclearization, and calling for sanctions to be lifted before any further progress in nuclear talks.
There are doubts whether Kim is willing to fully relinquish his country’s nuclear weapons, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurances the United States could provide.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kim in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, on Sunday for talks on setting up a second summit with Trump.
The Vatican’s priests were expelled by North Korea long ago and state-appointed laymen officiate services.
Estimates of the number of North Korean Catholics range from 800 to about 3,000, compared to more than 5 million in South Korea.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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