The meeting came a day before the pope is due to hold talks in Rome with leaders of Ukraine’s Greek-Catholic Church to discuss the conflict in that country. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church last year formally split from the Russian Orthodox Church amid tensions between Kiev and Moscow over the war in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin said before Putin’s visit that the meeting with Francis would focus on Syria and Ukraine. The meeting was the third between the two leaders, with the last such encounter in 2015. The head of 1.2 billion Catholics also had an historic encounter with Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Cuba in 2016. Putin also met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during his one-day visit to Rome.
Ties have been strained for centuries between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054 that split eastern and western Christianity over theological differences. The Russian Orthodox Church accused Catholics of trying to win converts following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, preventing John Paul II from fulfilling his long-held wish to travel to Russia.
Until the Cuba meeting, the head of the Russian Church had never met with the Roman pontiff because of doctrinal differences as well as arguments over the leadership of Ukrainian Christians.
Kravchenko reported from Rome and Meyer from Moscow.