Anchor: President Moon Jae-in returned home on Friday from a seven-day tour that took him to Britain, Austria and Spain. While busy with diplomacy, the president also managed to fit in visits to prominent installations of the Catholic Church, all to help spark interest in the possibility of a papal visit to North Korea.
As our Kim Bum-soo reports, Moon is seeking to realize the visit in a last ditch effort to save his inter-Korean legacy.
[Nat sound: President Moon Jae-in's visit to Heiligenkreuz Abbey (June 15)]
President Moon Jae-in in 2018 met Pope Francis and asked him to visit North Korea. The pope said yes, but the idea lost momentum amid the suspended inter-Korean dialogue.
While running a tight schedule during his latest tour of Europe, Moon squeezed in a visit to the Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria, reminding the media of the pontiff's old promise.
On the last day of his state visit to Spain, Moon again sought to build anticipation for the papal visit, meeting the Archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Juan José Omella.
[Nat sound: President Moon Jae-in's visit to archbishop of Washington D.C. (May 22)]
On the sidelines of his summit with U.S. President Joe Biden last month, the South Korean president sat down with the archbishop of Washington, D.C., Wilton Gregory.
[Sound bite: President Moon Jae-in (May 22/Korean-English translation)]
President Moon Jae-in: "[The Korean Catholic Church] nowadays is taking various roles in (the process of) the South-North reunification."
Cardinal Wilton Gregory: "The description of the Korean Catholic community that you just offered, Mr. President, is the source of pride that we would participate so deeply in the work of social justice... "
With less than a year remaining in Moon's term in office, the role of making the visit a reality could be taken up by the first Korean appointed to a senior position in the Holy See, who has visited North Korea four times already.
After the pope named him the new prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy this month, Archbishop Lazarus You Heung-sik told reporters that a papal visit would be a golden opportunity for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Joe Biden to build trust.
[Sound bite: Lazarus You Heung-sik - new prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (June 12/Korean-English translation)]
"If North Korea invited the pope during these times, this could turn into a big gain for North Korea."
"If the pontiff stands in between the U.S. and North Korea in the state of distrust, and if they give and take one by one, Chairman Kim Jong-un's international status will rise... "
As Moon tries to resuscitate his Korean Peninsula peace initiative, critics argue that Pope Francis should not legitimize the North Korean regime.
An official at the Unification Ministry in Seoul said that the government will spare no efforts once related discussions begin to arrange the pontiff's visit to North Korea.
Kim Bum-soo, KBS World Radio News.