Pope Francis received a cross made from barbed wire from the demilitarized zone that divides North Korea and South Korea on Friday.
The cross was a gift from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Pope Francis on Oct. 29 shortly before the pope’s meeting with US President Joe Biden.
During their meeting at the Vatican, Moon invited the pope to visit North Korea. According to the South Korean president’s spokesperson, Park Kyung-mee, the pope responded that he would be willing to go if he received an official invitation from North Korea.
The cross given to the pope is one of 136 crosses created from melted-down barbed wire from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to represent the 68 years that the Korean peninsula has been divided.
An accompanying message written in Spanish expressed the South Korean president’s hope that the crosses would be a symbol of peace.
“Just as the barbed wire’s thorns and razor blades melt in the fire to become a beautiful cross, I am hopeful that we can forever melt that iron barrier that separates our hearts. I pray devoutly that this cross will take deep root and peace will flourish,” the note said.
When the Korean Peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel, hundreds of thousands of people were permanently separated from their families.
Moon has said that his own parents, who fled to South Korea during the brutal Korean War from 1950 to 1953, were never able to reunite with the relatives that they left behind in North Korea.
The two Koreas are still technically at war, nearly seven decades after an armistice was signed in 1953.
In the time that they have been divided, the North and South have significantly diverged economically and culturally.
North Korea is known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
A report recently published by Korea Future has detailed the experience of Christians detained in North Korea in the past decade.
Moon is a practicing Catholic, former human rights attorney, and the son of North Korean refugees. He prioritized peaceful diplomacy with the north at a time when tensions with North Korea were high.
According to a statement from the Vatican, Moon and the pope discussed the “promotion of dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans.”
During the 25-minute private meeting with the pope in the Apostolic Palace, the two shared their hopes that a “joint effort and goodwill may favor peace and development in the Korean peninsula, supported by solidarity and by fraternity.”
Moon and Pope Francis also exchanged views “regarding current regional affairs and humanitarian issues,” the statement said.
Following his meeting with the pope, Moon also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, the equivalent of a foreign minister.
This was the second official audience between Pope Francis and Moon.
During Moon’s first meeting with the pope in 2018, he extended an invitation to Pope Francis from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for a papal visit to North Korea.
In July 2021, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said that he had been working with Church leaders to make a papal trip to North Korea possible, although a South Korean archbishop has said that “in reality, there are many steps to take” before this could feasibly happen.
“If the pontiff visits North Korea when an opportunity arises, it will be momentum for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Park Kyung-mee, the presidential spokesperson, said that Moon told the pope according to the Korean Herald, on Oct. 29.