The Vatican is considering the possibility of extending Pope Francis' trip to Lebanon in June so he can fly to Jerusalem to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has backed Russia's war in Ukraine, two sources said on Monday.
This would mark their second meeting, after their first, in Cuba in 2016, was the first between a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.
Kirill, 75, has given his full-throated blessing for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a position that has splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church and unleashed an internal rebellion that theologians and academics say is unprecedented.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plan was for the 85-year-old pope, who is due in Lebanon on June 12-13, to fly to Amman, Jordan on the morning of June 14.
From there, he would board a helicopter to Jerusalem on the same day for the meeting with Kirill and then return to Rome, the sources said.
One source said the trip appeared to be almost certain, while the other said it was one possibility. Additionally, Israeli officials in Jerusalem confirmed the allegations, affirming "there is indeed talks of a potential visit of the Pope in Israel in June."
Jerusalem was chosen as the location to host the meeting due to its religious significance. The visit is referred to as a "private visit", and it seems the pope intends to meet several political leaders in Israel, among them President Isaac Herzog.
Returning from his trip to Malta last week, Francis said he hoped to meet Kirill somewhere in the Middle East this year but did not say where.
Kirill called on Russians on Sunday to rally around the authorities as Moscow pursues what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine.
The patriarch has previously made statements defending Moscow's actions in Ukraine and views the war as a bulwark against a liberal Western culture that he considers decadent.
"Let the Lord help us unite during this difficult time for our Fatherland, including around the authorities," the Interfax news agency quoted Kirill as saying at a sermon in Moscow.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 to degrade its southern neighbor's military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.
Francis has already rejected that terminology, calling it a war.
Since the war began, Francis has only mentioned Russia explicitly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25. But he has made clear his opposition to Russia's actions, using the words invasion, aggression and atrocities.
On Sunday, the pope called for an Easter truce in Ukraine, and in an apparent reference to Russia, questioned the value of planting a victory flag "on a heap of rubble".
Pope Francis' first visit to Israel was in May 2014, marking the fourth pope to visit Israel. He met with Israeli leaders, as well as Jordanian and Palestinian officials.