.- Russian President Vladimir Putin has an official meeting scheduled with Pope Benedict XVI during the head-of-state's upcoming trip to Italy and Greek, Russian news sources have confirmed. The Holy Father and the Russian President will meet on March 13th.
According to a Kremlin news service, the Russian leader will also meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi on the same day.
This will be the first meeting between Putin and Pope Benedict, though it will be the Russian President’s third visit to the Vatican. Putin met with Pope John Paul II in 2000 and 2003.
John Paul II had been invited to Russia by both Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. However, a visit never came to be due to continued tensions between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.
According to the Interfax Russian news service, the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate has never rejected the idea of a papal visit to Russia or a meeting between the pope and Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia in a third country.
Working towards Catholic-Orthodox reunification has been one of the main focuses of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate.
RIA Novosti news service also noted that President Putin will depart Rome for Greece, for the signing of an agreement to build a $1 billion, 175 mile (280 km) pipeline to pump Russian oil across Bulgaria and Greece, to Europe.