Pope Francis urged Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday to commit himself to a "sincere and great effort" to achieve peace in Ukraine, the Vatican said.
The two met for about 50 minutes and agreed on the need to recreate a climate of dialogue in Ukraine, the Vatican added, and to implement a peace deal designed to end fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels.
Putin met the pope after holding talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Milan where the Italian leader showed little sign of breaking ranks over EU sanctions on Russia in response to the Ukraine crisis.
Moscow, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last year, has dismissed Western accusations that it is arming the separatists in eastern Ukraine and sending its own soldiers to join the fight.
The Vatican said the pope told Putin it was essential to resolve the "grave humanitarian situation" in Ukraine, allow aid into conflict areas, and work for "progressive detente".
During a picture-taking session after their private talks in the Vatican, Francis spoke of the need for a "peace that overcomes all wars" and "solidarity among peoples".
Russian leaders traditionally visit the Pope during any visit to Italy, and Russian and Soviet leaders have maintained links with the Vatican since formal contacts were established between the Holy See and the Kremlin under Mikhail Gorbachev.
For the Kremlin, these meetings are an important source of "supplementary external legitimacy," said Andrei Zolotov, a Russian journalist who specialises in religious affairs. "That is particularly important for Moscow in the present political situation."