Pope Francis waited for more than an hour to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit to peace and dialogue on Ukraine.
Putin kept the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics waiting for 70 minutes -- a rare occurrence at the Vatican. At their first meeting in November 2013, he was 50 minutes late. That was about how long their second encounter lasted.
The meeting got off to a chilly start. Francis looked solemn as he greeted Putin in German with a simple “welcome” in his study at the Apostolic Palace. Putin, who picked up the language as a KGB agent in East Germany, responded with a gesture of thanks.
The two men sat on opposite sides of the pope’s desk, gazing at each other in silence as they waited for journalists and photographers to leave. Once alone, they cut to the chase.
On Ukraine, “the Holy Father stated the need to commit to a sincere and great effort to achieve peace, and it was agreed it was important to rebuild a climate of dialogue and that all parties commit to enforce the Minsk accords,” referring to the cease-fire deal signed in February, the pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a statement.
The pope asked that aid workers be given access to address the “serious” humanitarian crisis, Lombardi said.
The conversation then shifted to the Middle East, in particular Syria and Iraq, where both agreed on the urgency for peace with a special reference to the plight of Christian minorities in the Muslim-dominated region.
The one-on-one ended with the pontiff, conceding a slight smile and gifting Putin a medallion with a veiled reference to Ukraine and other conflicts.
According to Lombardi, Francis told Putin the medallion represented “the angel of peace, which defeats all wars and speaks of solidarity among peoples.”
Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine, but diplomatically has stopped short of mentioning Russia by name.
Earlier on Wednesday Kenneth Hackett, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, urged the pope to say “something more about concern of territorial integrity, those types of issues.”
Asked why Putin was so late, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were delays in Milan, where the Russian leader was visiting the Expo 2015 world fair and seeing Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Peskov said the papal meeting was “very friendly” and Putin saw Francis as a “profound’ person.
Putin left the Vatican in a black stretch Mercedes limousine, at the head of a 13-vehicle motorcade, just in time for a quick pow wow at the airport with an old friend, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.
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