Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung visited the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex on Wednesday, the first time for a South Korean prince of the church to visit the communist country.
"Visiting the Kaesong Industrial Complex where South and North Koreans work together, I saw hope that [the two Koreas] can overcome pain and sorrow," Yeom said on return.
Accompanied by six priests and two other officials from the Archdiocese of Seoul, Yeom left for North Korea on Wednesday morning and spent about eight hours there.
"Although Kaesong is just 60 km from Seoul, I felt like the people in the two cities live far away as they cannot freely cross the border to meet each other," he told reporters.
Yeom met South Korean staff in the industrial park but no North Korean officials, and was not permitted to say mass.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seoul said, "Cardinal Yeom visited the industrial park to keep his promise to Rosario," a Catholic laymen's community of South Korean staffers there. "His visit had nothing to do with Pope Francis' upcoming visit to South Korea in August."
The North last December rejected Yeom's request for a visit but later changed its mind, apparently to project a friendlier image.
A Unification Ministry official here said, "Please don't read too much into to the government's approval of Cardinal Yeom's visit to the North. The government still restricts civilian exchanges but selectively approves humanitarian assistance or religious leaders' visits."