Putin gives Pope birthday call, praises his global role

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin called Pope Francis Friday to congratulate him on his 85th birthday, praising the pontiff’s efforts to strengthen ties between the Vatican and Russia.

The Russian leader noted Francis’ “high global authority and his big personal contribution to the development of ties between Russia and the Vatican,” the Kremlin said in its readout.

It added that Putin and the pope agreed to “continue joint efforts to uphold core spiritual and humanitarian values,” and emphasized the importance of a “constructive inter-religious dialogue.”

The call followed Francis’ statement earlier this month that he had plans for a possible second meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, following their historic 2016 encounter in Cuba — the first-ever meeting between the leaders of the two churches.

Francis said he planned to meet next week with a Russian church envoy to agree “on a possible meeting” with Patriarch Kirill. Francis noted that Kirill is due to travel in the coming weeks, adding that he was also “ready to go to Moscow” even if diplomatic protocols weren’t yet in place.

The two churches split during the Great Schism of 1054 and have remained estranged over a host of issues, including the primacy of the pope and Russian Orthodox accusations that the Catholic Church is poaching converts in former Soviet lands.

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