The Vatican announced on Monday that Pope Francis will attend a summit of religious leaders in Kazakhstan in September, where he has previously stated that he hopes to meet with the Russian Orthodox patriarch, who supports the Russia invasion of Ukraine.
According to the Vatican, Pope Francis will be in Nur-Sultan from September 13 to 15 to attend the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
The pope has stated in numerous recent interviews that he intends to meet with patriarch Kirill in the Kazakh capital, who has given his full backing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.
Pope Francis had planned to meet Kirill on June 14 in Jerusalem but cancelled that meeting on the advice of Vatican diplomats.
If the September meeting takes place, it would be only their second after they met in Cuba in 2016. The latter was the first such meeting between a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism in 1054.
The Vatican statement announcing the trip did not mention Kirill. It was released in Russian, Italian and English. Kazakh and Russian are the country’s two official languages.
The Ukraine war has caused a rift between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).
In an interview published in May in an Italian newspaper, Francis said Kirill “cannot become Putin’s altar boy”. The ROC later chided the pope over the remark.
Kirill’s position has also splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church and unleashed an internal rebellion which has led to the severing of ties by some local Orthodox Churches with the ROC.
In June, Britain sanctioned Kirill for “his prominent support of Russian military aggression in Ukraine”
Hungary blocked an EU attempt to sanction him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a member of the ROC, has described Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarising and “denazifying” the country.
The pope has rejected such terminology. He has several times implicitly accused Russia of “armed conquest, expansionism and imperialism” in Ukraine, and has called the conflict a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”.
Following his return from Canada two days earlier, Francis indicated in a Reuters interview last month that he intended to visit the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but he also wanted to travel to Moscow to promote peace.
In 2001, while it was still known as Astana, the late Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the Kazakh capital.
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