Pope Francis may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next year, after being invited by South Korean President Moon Jae In during a meeting at the Vatican. During the 35 minute meeting, President Moon relayed a message from the North Korean leader. The meeting would be a first for a Pope. No Pope has ever visited the reclusive nation, which has openly persecuted many religious faiths, including Catholicism.

The country, on the surface, says that it permits religious freedom — and even has its own version of a Catholic Church — which is not formally part of the Vatican, and is not under the influence or control of the Pope in Rome. It is called the Catholic Church of North Korea, and was created to control the influence the Catholic Church had in North Korea. It is, obviously, controlled by the government of North Korea.

Open worship is not permitted, other than in state controlled religious centers and government sponsored religions. North Korea also has one of the worst records of religious persecution, in particular of Christians, and the Pope’s visit would be surprising for some, but could offer hope that things are changing for Catholics within the country.

Is there a change in North Korean diplomacy? There does seem to be a large shift in North Korean diplomacy at work. Important first meetings seem to be happening at a fast pace compared to the decades of isolation for North Korea. The president and Kim Jong Un have an open and ongoing dialogue, as opposed to closed communications of past presidents, and more change seems to be on the horizon. The Pope’s visit will add the list of changes in diplomacy coming to the Korean Peninsula.