Peace in the Middle East, particularly the ongoing war in Syria, topped the agenda on Monday as Pope Francis welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican, reports the Catholic News Service.
The Russian president 'conveyed the greetings of (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Kirill, but there was not a discussion of ecumenical relations,' said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
A formal statement issued after the meeting said 'special attention was given to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and to the serious situation in Syria.'
The Vatican said Putin thanked the pope for a letter the pope had written him in September when the Russian president was hosting a summit of the G-20 leaders of the world's largest economies. The pope asked the leaders to 'lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution' to the Syria crisis and promote dialogue and negotiation.
Putin's government has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad and has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions to authorize the use of force to oust the Syrian president.
Pope Francis led a prayer vigil for peace in Syria in September and had asked other Christians around the world to observe a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Middle Eastern country. The war has claimed more than 100,000 lives in fighting since March 2011 and some 9 million have been displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.
The Vatican statement said that during the Pope's meeting with Putin, 'the urgency of stopping the violence and bringing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the (Syrian) population was underlined,' as well as the need to promote negotiations and 'involve the various ethnic and religious components, recognizing their essential role in society.'