Vatican City (AsiaNews) – This afternoon’s meeting between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin focused on the situation in the Ukraine and the Middle East.
In addition to the goal of peace in both regions, Holy See Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi noted that the Minks agreement was mentioned in connection with the Ukraine. In the case of Syria and Iraq, the two leaders mentioned the “concrete involvement” of the international community, “whilst ensuring the conditions necessary for life of all segments of society, including religious minorities, particularly Christians."
The meeting between Francis and Putin started at 6.15 pm and lasted 50 minutes, more than an hour later than scheduled. This is not the first time. In 2013, Putin arrived late by 70 minutes.
The presidential motorcade went through Via della Conciliazione and St Peter's Square, towards the Arch of the Bells. A group of Russians greeted him in Piazza Pio XII (Pius XII Square).
When Putin arrived at the Apostolic Palace, accompanied by an entourage of nine people including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, he was met by the pope in the in the Sala del Tronetto (“little throne room”) who greeted him in German “Willkommen” (Welcome), insisting that Putin enter first the library where the private meeting took place in the presence of two interpreters.
“Given the world situation, the meeting focused the conflict in Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East,” said Father Lombardi. “With regards to the situation of Ukraine, the Holy Father stated the need to commit to a sincere and great effort to achieve peace. The two agreed that it was important to rebuild a climate of dialogue and that all parties commit to enforce the Minsk accords.”
The discussion also centred on the need “to address the serious humanitarian situation, including access for humanitarian officials and the contribution of all parties to a progressive détente in the region.”
"As for the conflicts in the Middle East, within Syria and Iraq, the two reiterated views already expressed about the urgent need to pursue peace through the concrete involvement of the international community, whilst ensuring the conditions necessary for life of all segments of society, including religious minorities, particularly Christians."
After the meeting and the introduction of those present, the two leaders exchanged gifts. The Russian president gave the pope a picture of the Church of Jesus Saviour, embroidered with gold thread, which he described as “the Church of Saint Saviour, which was destroyed in the Soviet era and which has been rebuilt".
The Holy Father reciprocated by giving Putin a medallion with the Angel of Peace. "This,” the pontiff said, “is a medallion made by an artist from the last century. It is the Angel of Peace who defeats all the wars and speaks of solidarity among peoples." Francis also gave Putin a copy of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
Whilst the pope and Putin held their private meetings, Mgr Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The two discussed "issues like the conflict in Ukraine and the worrying situation in the Middle East."
Francis and Putin had already met on 25 November 2013. Two months earlier, the Pope wrote to Putin in his capacity as president of the G20, whose summit was set to take part in St Petersburg that year, in order to call on world leaders, on the day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, to "search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding."
That meeting too focused on peace in the Middle East, in particular the grim situation in Syria, and the situation of Christians in other regions of the world, as well as on the defence and promotion of values concerning the dignity of the person and the protection of life and the family.