Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit his country and believes he would be welcomed “enthusiastically”, according to South Korean officials.
The North Korean leader is said to have expressed his desire for the pontiff to make the trip to Pyongyang during his latest summit with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in last month.
It comes almost two decades after a similar invitation was extended to Pope John Paul II, although a visit never came to pass after a request for Catholic priests to be accepted in North Korea was denied.
State-appointed laymen officiate services in the reclusive state and the number of Catholics living there is estimated to range from 800 to 3,000 out of a population of approximately 25 million.
North Korea is officially atheist and strictly controls religious activities, but its leader has been engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts in recent months as he seeks to have economic sanctions eased.
Mr Moon has said he expects Mr Kim to visit Russia soon and possibly meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, although he has not commented on the likelihood of the Pope travelling to Pyongyang.
But he plans to let Francis know of the invitation during his own trip to the Vatican next week.
Meanwhile, planning continues for a second summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump.
The pair met for the first time in Singapore during the summer and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made several trips to Pyongyang since then.