Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, is paying a visit to the Pope.
According to Vatican Radio, this is the fourth time President Putin has visited the Vatican. He met twice with Pope John Paul II and once with Pope Benedict XVI.
President Putin, who is an Orthodox Christian, has said through his spokespeople that he and Pope Francis will focus on, among a couple of other things, “the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.”
Hopes were high for warmer relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches as President Vladimir Putin flew Monday to Rome for his first audience with Pope Francis. Topping the agenda is likely help for Christians in the Middle East.
Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has repeatedly said that he is a man of faith and his administration has consistently sought closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.
His policies “have brought religion to the forefront and triggered positive change in ecumenical relations,” said Natalya Pecherskaya, rector of the St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy.
But state interests will come first on the visit, officials said.
“Putin will be meeting Pope Francis as the president of Russia, and then only secondly as a Russian Orthodox [Christian],” said Father Kirill Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.
As well as his visit with the Holy Father in the Vatican, Putin will meet with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and Romano Prodi, the country’s former premier and a special UN representative, in Rome. On Tuesday, Putin will travel to Trieste for talks with the Italian government.
The Kremlin announced ahead of the visit that Putin and Pope Francis would focus on the state of international institutions and their ability to respond to crises, as well as the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.