Catholic aid group to visit N. Korea next month

A Catholic aid group plans to visit North Korea next month and will also bring a message from Pope Benedict XVI addressed to Catholics in the isolated country, the organization said Saturday. The group will be in Pyongyang on March 27, Caritas Internationalis spokeswoman Nancy McNally said. Caritas has made a number of visits to North Korea, bringing food, medicine and other humanitarian aid in recent years, but this will be the first time the delegation will be led by a South Korean bishop, according to the missionary news service AsiaNews. The visit is part of the Vatican's efforts to improve its relations and expand its influence in Asia. It has recently stepped up attempts at better relations with Vietnam and China, two other Communist countries. McNally said it is not known how many Catholics there are in North Korea, but some estimates have put the figure at around 800. The pope's message will be in reply to Christmas greetings he got from the National Korean Catholic Association. McNally said it was not clear who exactly is behind the association.