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Russian Catholic leaders pledge to work with Putin after election win

March 22nd, 2018 Posted in International News Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service
WARSAW, Poland — Russia’s minority Catholic Church has pledged to help build a civil society after the nation’s March 18 election and called on President Vladimir Putin to “justify voters’ confidence” after his victory.

“Our church always stresses its readiness to work with the Russian Federation’s secular powers on important issues, such as building a civil society and forming healthy life patterns,” said Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference. “Although we don’t currently face any special barriers to our service on Russian territory, we suffer the same problems as the rest of society with bureaucracy, corruption and the ambiguous implementation of laws.”

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Pope pushes Putin to work for peace in eastern Ukraine

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican June 10, the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine was the principal topic of their conversation and was a concern for many others as well.

Pope Francis talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private meeting at the Vatican June 10. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)

Pope Francis talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private meeting at the Vatican June 10. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)

Putin arrived at the Vatican more than an hour late, beating the 45-minute tardiness he chalked up in November 2013, the last time he visited the pope. Pope Francis and Putin spoke privately, aided by interpreters, for 50 minutes before the Russian president introduced the members of his entourage, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The meeting was dedicated principally to the conflict in Ukraine and to the situation in the Middle East,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

“The Holy Father affirmed the need for a commitment to a sincere and serious effort to reach peace and there was agreement on the importance of restoring a climate of dialogue” and on adhering to the promises made in the cease-fire agreement, Father Lombardi said.

The “serious humanitarian situation” in eastern Ukraine also was discussed, the spokesman said, as was the need to assure humanitarian workers have access to the region.

Dozens of Ukrainians attended the pope’s general audience earlier in the morning, waving blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags and holding up a sign saying, “Holy Father, Pray for Ukraine.”

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine and about a month later fighting began along Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia. Although Putin denied it, there were widespread reports that Russia not only was supporting separatists in the region, but that Russian troops had crossed into Ukraine.

Hostilities reportedly have eased since an internationally mediated cease-fire agreement was signed in mid-February, but the fighting has not stopped.

A report June 1 from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “Between mid-April 2014 and May 30, 2015, at least 6,417 people, including at least 626 women and girls, have been documented as killed and 15,962 as wounded in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine. This is a conservative estimate and the actual numbers could be considerably higher.”

Father Lombardi said the pope and Putin also spoke about the continuing crises in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, and the need for the international community to find ways to promote peace and protect “all components of society, including religious minorities, especially Christians.”

Exchanging gifts, Putin gave Pope Francis a cushion embroidered with gold thread; the design was of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which Putin explained had been “destroyed in the Soviet era,” but has been rebuilt.

Pope Francis gave Putin a medallion of the “Angel of Peace,” who, he said, “defeats all wars and speaks of solidarity among peoples.”

The pope also gave the Russian president a copy of the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which the pope said, “has many religious, human, geo-political and social reflections.”

Ukrainian Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told reporters June 9 he had written to Pope Francis ahead of the meeting, asking him to “be the voice of the Ukrainian people, its children, all the Catholic believers in Ukraine who suffer.”

Until now “no one, neither diplomacy nor the systems of international security nor the leaders of this world, have been able to stop the war,” he said. “We are hopeful that the pope can do what has been impossible.”

Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador the Holy See, was asked June 10 about the U.S. government’s view of the meeting.

“We would like to see the Vatican … continue to express its concern particularly about what’s happening in the Ukraine,” the ambassador told reporters at his residence. “Maybe this is an opportunity where the Holy Father privately could raise concerns.”

“We think they could say something more about concern for territorial integrity, those types of issues,” the ambassador said. “It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents and does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine.”

For the first time since 1998, the leaders of the world’s most industrialized countries, the so-called G-7, held a summit in June 2014 and excluded the Russian president, citing the invasion of Crimea. They renewed their exclusion of Putin this year when the G-7 leaders met June 7-8 in Germany.

“This is a very serious situation and I believe that the G-7 has pretty well decided that they are going to continue the sanctions because we have not seen the adherence to the Minsk agreements” for a cease-fire, Hackett said.

 

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At Vatican meeting, Pope Francis discusses war in Syria with Putin

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Peace in the Middle East, particularly the ongoing war in Syria, topped the agenda Nov. 25 as Pope Francis welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican.

The Russian president “conveyed the greetings of (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Kirill, but there was not a discussion of ecumenical relations,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican Nov. 25. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

A formal statement issued after the meeting said “special attention was given to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and to the serious situation in Syria.”

The Vatican said Putin thanked the pope for a letter the pope had written him in September when the Russian president was hosting a summit of the G-20 leaders of the world’s largest economies. The pope asked the leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” to the Syria crisis and promote dialogue and negotiation.

Putin’s government has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad and has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions to authorize the use of force to oust the Syrian president.

Pope Francis led a prayer vigil for peace in Syria in September and had asked other Christians around the world to observe a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Middle Eastern country. The war has claimed more than 100,000 lives in fighting since March 2011 and some 9 million have been displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

The Vatican statement said that during the pope’s meeting with Putin, “the urgency of stopping the violence and bringing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the (Syrian) population was underlined,” as well as the need to promote negotiations and “involve the various ethnic and religious components, recognizing their essential role in society.”

Father Lombardi said the two also spoke about “the life of the Catholic community in Russia” and its contributions to the life of society, the oppression of Christians in some parts of the world, the defense and promotion of human dignity and the safeguarding of human life and the family.

Putin’s plane arrived late in Rome and he was more than 45 minutes late for his meeting with the pope. The two spoke privately, aided by interpreters, for 35 minutes before Putin introduced the members of his entourage, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Pope Francis gave Putin a mosaic with a view of the Vatican gardens and Putin gave Pope Francis an icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, one of the most venerated images in the Russian Orthodox Church.

As the pope was moving away from the gift table, Putin was overheard asking him, “Do you like the icon?” When the pope said yes, Putin made the sign of the cross, bowed and kissed the icon and the pope did likewise.

Father Lombardi said the ongoing tensions in the Middle East also were the main focus of Putin’s meeting later with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with several thousand Ukrainian Catholic pilgrims, many of them concerned about the demonstrations that had been going on in Kiev to protest Putin’s alleged efforts to discourage Ukraine’s government from forging closer economic ties with the European Union.

At the end of his Sunday Angelus address Nov. 24, Pope Francis also mentioned the Ukrainians’ prayerful remembrance of the 80th anniversary of the “Holodomor” or “Terror-Famine of Ukraine.”

The pope described the Holodomor as “the great famine provoked by the Soviet regime that caused millions of victims.” Largely blamed on Joseph Stalin’s radical economic policies, and perhaps augmented by his desire to crush the Ukrainian resistance, some 1.8 million to 3.5 million Ukrainians died of starvation in 1932 and 1933.

Critics have accused Putin of promoting a revisionist and overly favorable image of Stalin’s regime and particularly of his prowess in turning the Soviet Union into a superpower.

 

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