Francis to Putin: ‘Sincere’ effort for peace needed in Ukraine

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from USAToday,

Pope Francis called on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to make a “sincere and great effort to achieve peace” in Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists continue to battle government troops.

The United States had urged the pontiff to take a hard line with Putin over Ukraine. Francis talked with Putin about the “importance of rebuilding a climate of dialogue and the need for all concerned parties to implement the agreements” of a February cease-fire, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Violence in Ukraine has escalated in recent weeks with battles between national forces and Russian-backed separatists. Russia continues to deny involvement in the conflict despite mounting evidence.

The Vatican did not say whether Francis challenged Russia on its role in the Ukraine conflict. The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, had appealed for the pope to address “territorial integrity” during the private meeting.

“It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents, and it does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine,” Hackett told reporters before the meeting. “This is a very serious situation.”

Putin and Francis also talked about the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, where Christian minorities have been threatened.

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