In one of the most eagerly anticipated meetings between a Russian head of state and a pope, Vladimir Putin arrived at the Apostolic Palace this evening for an audience with Pope Francis.
During the meeting, which was said to have lasted roughly 35 minutes, the two men discussed several important areas of convergence between the Kremlin and the Holy See. These included peace in the Middle East and Syria as well as protection of life and the family.
Putin has been especially vocal on some of these issues recently, leading many to see him as a closer ally of the Church than many of his Western counterparts.
Following the meeting, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters the meeting was “cordial” and “constructive”. He also said Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to President Putin who conveyed the greetings of Patriarch Kirill. But the Vatican spokesman made clear there was no discussion of a possible papal visit to Russia in the future.
The Vatican communique:
"In the afternoon of Monday 25 November 2013, the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin, was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis. Mr. Putin subsequently went on to meet with the Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations, and the Parties focused on various questions of common interest, especially in relation to the life of the Catholic community in Russia, revealing the fundamental contribution of Christianity in society. In this context, mention was made of the critical situation faced by Christians in some regions of the world, as well as the defence of and promotion of values regarding the dignity of the person, and the protection of human life and the family.
Furthermore, special attention was paid to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and the grave situation in Syria, with reference to which President Putin expressed thanks for the letter addressed to him by the Holy Father on the occasion of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg. Emphasis was placed on the urgency of the need to bring an end to the violence and to ensure necessary humanitarian assistence for the population, as well as to promote concrete initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict, favouring negotiation and involving the various ethnic and religious groups, recognising their essential role in society."
During the traditional exchange of gifts, sources present say Putin blessed himself and reverently kissed an icon of the Virgin Mary after presenting it to Pope Francis. The icon was of the Madonna of Vladimir that is very dear to the Russian Orthodox faithful. The Holy Father said he liked it when asked, followed suit and kissed the icon as well. The Pope presented Putin with a ceramic mosaic of the Vatican gardens.