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Putin To Meet Top Vatican Diplomat In Sochi

Russian Patriarch Kirill (left) welcomes Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin during their meeting in Moscow on August 22.
Russian Patriarch Kirill (left) welcomes Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin during their meeting in Moscow on August 22.

The Vatican's secretary of state is set to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on the third day of his official visit to Russia.

The discussion between Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Putin on August 23 will include relations between Russia and the Vatican as well as "the plight of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the situation in Syria and Ukraine," the Kremlin has said.

During his meeting with Putin at the Vatican in June 2015, Pope Francis urged the Russian president to commit himself to a "sincere and great effort" for peace in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.

On August 22 in Moscow, Parolin met with Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russian Orthodox Church, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Kirill praised relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, insisting that the two have similar positions on a variety of international issues.

Parolin voiced hope that his visit will help strengthen ties, but warned that patience will be needed to achieve results.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of foreign relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said after the talks that the possibility of a new meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis was not on the agenda.

Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, has sought to bridge enduring tensions between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, including with a landmark February 2016 meeting in Cuba with Kirill.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Lavrov, Parolin said there was "positive momentum" behind the idea of the Francis visiting Russia.

He did not give any prospective date for a possible visit by the pope, suggesting that there is more work to be done if such a visit is to occur.

It would be the first such trip by a pontiff in the modern era.

Parolin also said that he raised certain difficulties faced by the Catholic Church in Russia, including "working residency permits for non-Russian personnel and the restitution of several churches necessary for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country."

Lavrov said the talks focused on conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, as well as the Ukrainian crisis, and mentioned the need for solutions for Christians living in the Middle East.

"We need to find similar solutions that would provide proper balance between different ethnic and religious groups in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, where state building processes are under way," the Russian foreign minister said.

Parolin said Moscow and the Vatican disagreed about the plight of Christians in certain parts of the world, without elaborating.

But he insisted that the two share a "strong concern for the situation of Christians in several countries of the Middle East and the African continent."

The cardinal also said that he believed Moscow could play an important contribution in helping solve the crisis in Venezuela because of its close ties with Caracas.

Later on August 22, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on Russia and the Vatican to help fend off a U.S. "military threat," and said he would soon go to Moscow to meet with Putin.

The South American country has been the scene of violent protests against Maduro's moves to increase his power and silence the opposition. The unrest has left more than 120 people dead since April.

U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this month that he would consider military intervention against Maduro's increasingly authoritarian government.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and Vatican Radio
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