Papal Visit Is on Korean Bishops´ Minds

Hopes Rising for Asian Peninsula´s Reunification

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 22, 2001 ( John Paul II today received a group of Korean bishops, who have come for their once-every-five-year visit to Rome, an event that could prove important for the reunification of the two Koreas.

Last June in Pyongyang, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung proposed to Kim Jong II, his North Korean counterpart, to invite the Pope to visit the country, as the sign of reconciliation between the two Koreas. At the meeting, the Communist leader accepted the proposal.

If the visit is to take place, however, North Korea must establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican and recognize religious liberty. These steps have not yet been taken.

The visiting bishops include Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, archbishop emeritus of Seoul, and the present archbishop, Nicholas Cheong, who is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Archbishop Cheong has received a verbal invitation to travel to North Korea to begin to study the possibility of a papal visit.

Since 1945, Catholics in North Korea have not seen a single priest ordained. The community of faithful numbers about 3,000. A layman directs prayers on Sunday in a church in Pyongyang. There is no news on the whereabouts of 50 priests who were in the country in the 1940s.

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