Pope Francis gets invite to North Korea, may consider landmark trip

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, relayed the invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Pope Francis verbally during a 35-minute meeting in the Vatican. (ANSA via AP)
Updated 19 October 2018

Pope Francis gets invite to North Korea, may consider landmark trip

  • Any visit would be the first by a pope to the reclusive state which does not allow priests to be permanently stationed there
  • North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as it does not undermine the state

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Thursday received an invitation to visit North Korea and the pontiff indicated he would consider making what would be a landmark trip to a nation known for severe restrictions on religious practice, according to South Korean officials. South Korean President Moon Jae-in relayed the invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the pope verbally during a 35-minute meeting in the Vatican.
Any visit would be the first by a pope to the reclusive state which does not allow priests to be permanently stationed there. There is little information on how many of its citizens are Catholic, or how they practice their faith.
North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as it does not undermine the state.
But beyond a handful of state-controlled places of worship — including a Catholic church in the capital of Pyongyang — no open religious activity is allowed and the authorities have repeatedly jailed foreign missionaries.
Kim told Moon, a Catholic, of his wish to meet the pontiff during a meeting last month and the South Korean leader announced before the trip that he would be relaying a message.
According to the president’s office, Francis expressed his strong support for efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. Moon’s office quoted the pope as telling Moon: “Do not stop, move forward. Do not be afraid.”
Asked if Kim should send a formal invitation, Moon’s office quoted the pope as responding to Moon: “your message is already sufficient but it would be good for him to send a formal invitation.”
“I will definitely answer if I get the invitation, and I can go,” the president’s office quoted the pope as saying.
A meeting with Pope Francis would be the latest in a string of major diplomatic meetings for Kim Jong Un this year.
The two Koreas have held three summits this year. Kim also held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, where the leaders promised to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The pope is expected to visit neighboring Japan next year and the proposed North Korea visit comes as China improves relations with the Holy See.
A deal signed in September gives the Vatican a long-sought say in the choice of bishops in China, and for the first time, Beijing allowed two bishops to attend a Vatican meeting, where they invited the pope to visit China.
A Vatican statement made no mention of the verbal invitation from North Korea’s Kim.
It spoke only of “the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans” and “the common commitment to fostering all useful initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development.”
Any trip to the North, however brief, could be contentious for the pope, given what the United Nations says is a record of gross and systematic human rights abuses.
Aides close to the pope have said he is open to taking what they call first steps in places where the Church has been persecuted in the hope that the situation could improve.
Church officials estimate that North Korea had a Catholic community of about 55,000 just before the 1950-53 Korean War.
Religious agencies have estimated the number remaining from the few hundreds to about 4,000.
Priests from the South occasionally visit, usually accompanying aid deliveries or humanitarian projects.


Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

Updated 37 min 50 sec ago

Pakistan regulates falconry as Arab hunting forays loom

  • Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate to Pakistani deserts

KARACHI: With the annual hunting season for the houbara bustard bird beginning in Pakistan next month, the country’s southern Sindh province has moved to regulate the practice of falconry, including that parties arriving mostly from Arab states pay $100,000 to hunt 100 of the rare desert birds over a 10-day period.

Every winter, thousands of the houbara bustard migrate from Central Asia to the warmth of Pakistani deserts in Sindh province. Their arrival sets off another migration, with scores of wealthy Gulf Arab residents descending on Pakistan for falconry, the practice of hunting wild animals in their natural state or habitat, with the help of a trained bird of prey.

Local communities benefit from the hobby, the government argues, with hunters channeling cash — via hunting permit fees and jobs — into remote corners of the country where the bird is found.

In September this year, Sindh passed a new law, the Sindh Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act of 2020, to boost falconry and prevent “harmful” practices such as hunting during the breeding season.

“Previously, there was no code of conduct explained in the old law; however, in the new law it is fully explained,” Javed Mahar, the conservator at the Sindh Wildlife Department, told Arab News.

Under the new law, a foreign dignitary or his state would be required to file a hunting permit request with the Pakistani foreign office, which would then be forwarded to the wildlife department.

The provincial wildlife department would issue hunting permits to foreign dignitaries only on the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mahar added: “A foreign hunting party will pay $100,000 for hunting 100 houbara bustards in 10 days’ time.”

“The request is received by the government in writing, from a dignitary or his state or forwarded through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan,” the new law reads.

The foreign office did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, the Supreme Court placed a ban on hunting the houbara bustard. The government at the time, of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, asked the court to review the ban because it was damaging Pakistan’s relations with Gulf states, key investors in the country. It argued that sustainable hunting of the bustard was the best means of conservation.

The court lifted the ban in 2016.

But conservationists say that the bird is at risk of extinction if hunting continues.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the bustard as a vulnerable species with a global population of between 50,000 and 100,000. It has almost vanished on the Arabian Peninsula.

But Pakistani officials say that the new law will both boost diplomatic relations with Gulf states and set better hunting precedents.

“This healthy practice will help in boosting diplomatic relations,” Pakistan Falconry Association President Kamran Khan Yousafzai said. “It is good that falconry has been regulated in Sindh,” he added, saying that the new regulations would help local communities and conservation efforts.

“The pattern can be derived from markhor trophy hunting, which diverts 70 percent of its earnings to uplift local communities and conservation whereas only 30 percent goes to the government,” he said, referring to hunting licenses auctioned each year for the rare long-horned goat native to Pakistan.

However, the World Wide Fund for Nature — Pakistan said that hunting permits for the bustard should only be issued based on population viability confirmed through credible research.

“The global population of the threatened Asian houbara bustard is continuously declining mainly due to poaching, hunting and habitat degradation,” said Muhammad Jamshed Chaudhry, WWF Pakistan senior manager for research and conservation. “Without taking stringent measures to control these, new regulation law may not demonstrate any benefits to the species and communities.”

Related