It isn't easy to turn down an invitation to Mass when it comes from Pope Francis himself, but North Korea reportedly did just that.
The Korean Catholics Association, which operates the only Catholic Church in North Korea, declined to send a delegation to a Mass that will be held by Pope Francis Aug. 18 in Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral. (Via Rome Reports)
Rome Reports points out the Mass is scheduled for the same day as a joint military drill between the U.S. and South Korea. In a letter the KCA said, "Under these circumstances, going to Seoul would be an agonizing step."
South Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily writes last month KCA officials said, "There is a lot of consideration in going to Seoul right now." A South Korean Catholic official told the outlet in "North Korean lingo 'a lot of consideration' is a polite abstention."
The Korean Catholics Association is not part of the Vatican, leaving North Korea without a bishop. It's instead run by the North Korean government, which doesn't have the best track record when it comes to religious freedom.
A former North Korean resident writes in NK News, which is a privately owned news site focusing on North Korea, "Even though the North Korean constitution officially states that it allows the freedom of religion, this freedom simply does not exist in the North."
The Wall Street Journal writes churches and other places of worship in Pyongyang are operated by the state to give the illusion of religious freedom, reporting "North Korea's leadership cult acts as a quasi-religion that officials worry could be undermined by the spread of religion in the country."
Despite North Korea's policies on religion, there is still a Catholic presence in the country, although its unclear how big that presence is.
In June 2013 Vatican Insider wrote there are an estimated 10,000 Catholics in North Korea, although the state claims there are only 3,000. A South Korean priest said Catholic services at one church in North Korea are run by a layman as there are no Catholic priests in the country.
Pope Francis will also meet with the families of victims and survivors of South Korea's Sewol ferry disaster, which left more than 300 passengers dead or missing in April.