Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.His arrival in Assisi was described as “spiritual perestroika” by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.
“St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ,” said Mr Gorbachev. “His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life,” he added.
Mr Gorbachev’s surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.
Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a “closet believer”.
Mr Reagan held deep religious convictions himself. However, until now Mr Gorbachev has allowed himself to express only pantheistic views, saying in one interview “nature is my god”.
UPDATE: Okay, so maybe not.