International News

Pope and Putin Talk Primarily About Peace

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Peace in the Middle East, particularly the ongoing war in Syria, topped the agenda Nov. 25 as Pope Francis welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican.

The Russian president “conveyed the greetings of (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Kirill, but there was not a discussion of ecumenical relations,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Pope Francis walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican Nov. 25.  See story on Page 3. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters
Pope Francis walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican Nov. 25. See story on Page 3. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

A formal statement issued after the meeting said “special attention was given to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and to the serious situation in Syria.”

The Vatican said Putin thanked the pope for a letter the pope had written him in September when the Russian president was hosting a summit of the G-20 leaders of the world’s largest economies. The pope asked the leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” to the Syria crisis and promote dialogue and negotiation.

Putin’s government has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad and has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions to authorize the use of force to oust the Syrian president.

Pope Francis led a prayer vigil for peace in Syria in September and had asked other Christians around the world to observe a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Middle Eastern country. The war has claimed more than 100,000 lives in fighting since March, 2011, and some nine million have been displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

The Vatican statement said that during the pope’s meeting with Putin, “the urgency of stopping the violence and bringing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the (Syrian) population was underlined,” as well as the need to promote negotiations and “involve the various ethnic and religious components, recognizing their essential role in society.”

Father Lombardi said the two also spoke about “the life of the Catholic community in Russia” and its contributions to the life of society, the oppression of Christians in some parts of the world, the defense and promotion of human dignity and the safeguarding of human life and the family.

Putin’s plane arrived late, and he was more than 45 minutes late for his meeting with the pope. The two spoke privately, aided by interpreters, for 35 minutes before Putin introduced the members of his entourage, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Pope Francis gave Putin a mosaic with a view of the Vatican gardens, and Putin gave Pope Francis an icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, one of the most venerated images in the Russian Orthodox Church.

As the pope was moving away from the gift table, Putin was overheard asking him, “Do you like the icon?” When the pope said yes, Putin made the sign of the cross, bowed and kissed the icon, and the pope did likewise.

Father Lombardi said the ongoing tensions in the Middle East also were the main focus of Putin’s meeting later with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

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