Francis urges Russian leader to work for peace
In a private meeting at the Vatican Wednesday, Pope Francis asked Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to work for peace in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Putin visited the Pope, and the Holy See issued a statement saying the two, as had been foreseen considering recent events, spoke about the two world hotspots. The meeting, held in the Library of the Apostolic Palace, lasted about 50 minutes. The Pope greeted the arriving president using the German word for "Welcome," perhaps a nod to Putin’s KGB career in East Germany. Putin responded not with words but a nod of the head. The meeting itself was conducted through interpreters, in Russian and Italian. It was the second time the two world leaders have met.
The Russian president presided over the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea last year and has been accused of supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine. A supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he also has been involved in talks seeking a resolution to the crisis in Syria.
"Regarding the situation in Ukraine, the Holy Father stated that we must engage in a sincere and great effort to achieve peace, and they agreed on the importance of restoring a climate of dialogue and the need for all concerned parties to implement the agreements of Minsk," the Vatican statement read, referring to the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk, Belarus, in February. The agreement called for an immediate and full bilateral ceasefire; withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides; an effective monitoring and verification regime for the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons; a dialogue on the holding of local elections; pardon and amnesty by banning any prosecution of figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict, and the release of all hostages and other illegally detained people.
"Also essential is a commitment to addressing the serious humanitarian situation by all parties by ensuring, among other things, access to humanitarian workers in the region," Wednesday’s Vatican statement added.
"As regards the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, in the lands of Syria and Iraq, the meeting confirmed what has already been shared concerning the urgency to pursue peace with the concrete intervention of the international community, while at the same time ensuring the necessary living conditions of all spheres of society, including religious minorities, and in particular Christians," the statement continued.
While Putin and the Pope met, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, held a separate meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. The Vatican said the same topics were addressed.