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Putin visit puts pressure on Pope over Ukraine

Vladimir Putin will visit Pope Francis next week, with the Pontiff under pressure to explicitly condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Putin visit puts pressure on Pope over Ukraine
Putin last came to the Vatican in November 2013. Photo: Claudio Peri/AFP

Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said Putin would meet the Argentinian pontiff in the afternoon of Wednesday June 10th.

The Russian leader first met Francis at the Vatican on November 2013, before Russia's March 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and the subsequent conflict in the ex-Soviet country's east badly soured relations with Western powers.

The Vatican has adopted a cautious stance on the conflict between Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine which has religious overtones.

Francis has publicly voiced his frustration over “a war between Christians,” but has not heeded calls from leaders of Ukraine's minority Greek Catholic community to firmly condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine.

In February, he rankled Ukraine’s Greek Catholics after calling the conflict “fratricidal”.

“It’s fair to say that many Greek Catholics in Ukraine have not felt adequately supported by Pope Francis,” John L. Allen Jr, associate editor of the Boston Globe and Vatican specialist, told The Local, adding that the meeting with Putin could go one of two ways.

“It will either be another confirmation for the Greek Catholics that the Pope is more concerned about a broader geopolitical cooperation with Russia, as it is aligned on issues such as Syria and protecting Christians there, or it will be an opportunity for him to do a balancing act in deepening the seas to use the opportunity to show Greek Catholics that he has their backs.”

The visit is being tagged on to the end of Putin's scheduled trip to Milan to attend the World Expo, which the Kremlin announced on Monday.

Italy, the second-largest trade partner in the EU with Russia, has been softer in its stance towards sanctions against the country over the Ukraine conflict.

Premier Matteo Renzi also sought Russia's help with resolving the Libya crisis.

Russia's economy has been hit hard by the sanctions, while a Russian embargo on food imports has had a huge impact on Italian exporters.

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HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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