By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and Pope Francis discussed the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, Kirill’s office said, the first known contact between the two religious leaders since the conflict began.
The Moscow Patriarchy said in a statement that the two discussed the “humanitarian aspects of the ongoing crisis” and the importance of pursuing peace talks.
They also discussed “what actions the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches could take to overcome its consequences,” the Russian side said.
In its readout of the conversation, which took place in a video call, the Vatican said the pope told Kirill: “The ones who pay the price of war are the people, the Russian soldiers and the people who are bombarded and die.”
Kirill, 75, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has made statements defending Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and sees the war as a bulwark against a West he considers decadent, particularly over the acceptance of homosexuality.
At his general audience earlier on Wednesday, Francis evoked the spectre of a nuclear war, where whoever is left of humanity would have to start all over again on “the day after”, and appeared to ask God to stop the aggressor in Ukraine.
Metropolitan (Archbishop) Hilaron of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external affairs office and Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican Council for Christian Unity, also took part in the conversation, both statements said.
On Wednesday evening, the Vatican’s number two, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said a Mass for peace in Ukraine in St. Peter’s Basilica attended by both the Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors to the Vatican.
(Additional reporting by Sujata Rao in London; Editing by William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)