MOSCOW, December 31. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed deep condolences to Pope Francis on the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The telegram was published on the Kremlin website.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed away at the age of 95, Director of the Holy See Press Office Matteo Bruni said earlier on Saturday.
"Benedict XVI was a prominent religious and statesman, a staunch defender of traditional Christian values," the President said as quoted by the Kremlin press service.
"During his pontificate, full-fledged diplomatic relations were established between Russia and the Vatican, and relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were developed," the Russian leader noted.
The President added that he had a chance to meet and talk "with this outstanding person" and that he will always keep the fondest memories of Benedict XVI.
Putin and Benedict XVI
The German cardinal, prominent theologian Josef Ratzinger ascended the papal throne in 2005 after the death of his predecessor John Paul II, taking the name Benedict XVI.
In 2013, he became the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate the papacy. Benedict, who at that time was 85 years old, explained his decision by the lack of strength to manage the Roman Catholic Church.
Putin and Benedict XVI were personally acquainted. In 2005, Putin sent congratulations to the pontiff on his election to the apostolic throne. In his message, he stressed that Russia is determined to continue a constructive political dialogue and interaction with the Vatican to solve global problems, strengthen the values of goodness, justice and humanism.
In March 2007, Putin and Benedict XVI met in person during the Russian President's visit to Italy and the Vatican. They discussed in detail issues on the international agenda, in particular the situation in hot spots, and also exchanged gifts. The audience lasted about 40 minutes.
Putin sent a message to Benedict XVI and personally congratulated him on the phone on the occasion of his 80th birthday.