VATICAN CITY (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Pope Francis on June 10 at the Vatican, with conflicts in Syria and Ukraine likely to top the Holy See's agenda.
Putin last called on Francis on Nov. 25, 2013.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday the meeting would take place in the afternoon of June 10; Putin is expected to visit Russia's pavilion at the Expo world's fair in Milan, where June 10 has been slated as Russia's national day.
After nearly a half-century of hostility between the Vatican and the Kremlin during the Cold War, a major breakthrough came when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met with the Polish-born St. John Paul II in 1989, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
After a 2009 visit by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia and the Holy See upgraded their diplomatic relations to full-fledged ties, with ambassadors.
Long-running tensions in Russia between Orthodox and Catholic faithful in Russia prevented Pope Benedict XVI and before him John Paul from achieving their long-sought dreams of a Russian pilgrimage and meeting with the Russian patriarch.
Tellingly, Putin didn't invite Francis to visit during his 2013 visit — one of the few world leaders who have not extended an invitation to the enormously popular pope during an audience.
Francis has sought to enlist Orthodox leaders in his campaign to condemn attacks on Christians by Islamic militants in the Middle East. But he has trod lightly with Russia over Ukraine, denouncing the casualties and calling for a cease-fire to hold, but not laying any blame on Moscow.