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Pope Francis To Receive Putin At Vatican Next Month


Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a previous Vatican meeting in 2015
Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a previous Vatican meeting in 2015

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin for an audience next month.

"The Holy Father will receive the president of the Russian Federation...this upcoming July 4," Holy See interim spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement on June 6.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the planning for the visit has already started.

"Preparations for Putin’s visit and contacts in Rome are under way, an audience with the pope is planned during this trip... we will make a statement concerning the details in due course," Peskov said.

The scheduled meeting between Putin and Francis will come days before Roman Catholic leaders from Ukraine gather in Rome to discuss the continuing conflict in Ukraine and the fallout from the schism between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

Francis has already met Putin twice, in 2013 and 2015.

During the 2015 meeting, Francis urged all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine to make a "sincere effort" for peace.

Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014, shortly after Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

In 2009, Russia and the Vatican re-established full diplomatic ties which had been severed during Soviet times.

Putin previously met the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI as well as late pontiff John Paul II.

Last month, the Vatican announced that Francis had invited the leadership of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church for meetings on July 5-6. The aim, it said, was to lend support "in the delicate situation in which Ukraine finds itself."

The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine is a minority eastern rite church loyal to the pope.

Last year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine formally split from the Russian Orthodox Church in a schism that was recognized by the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

The Russian church, which is considered the largest denomination within Orthodox Christianity, and the Vatican have moved to mend ties ruptured a millennium ago, in the 1054 schism that split Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church.

In 2009, Russia and the Vatican reestablished full diplomatic ties. Putin previously met the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI as well as his predecessor, the late pontiff John Paul II.

In 2016, Francis met Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba -- the first such meeting between a pope and a Russian patriarch in history.

Still, historical grievances have persisted, with Russian church supporters fearing that the Catholic Church was seeking to poach converts or claim properties that may have belonged to Catholics prior to the Soviet era.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russia's first post-independence president, Boris Yeltsin, both had invited John Paul II, but opposition from Orthodox leaders thwarted the effort.

John Paul II was the first pope to visit several former Soviet countries, including the Baltic states, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

With reporting by AFP and Interfax
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