Pope Francis has received a private message from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents.
It was the first known time Bashar al-Assad has sent a direct message to the Pope since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.
Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.
Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government’s position ahead of peace talks due to start on January 22nd under UN auspices in Geneva.
The Vatican, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, also has a representative to UN organizations in Geneva.
It also said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with Pope Francis’ secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
“The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government,” a statement said.
Syria’s civil war between forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple him has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011.
The Vatican is also keen to have information on the fate of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest who supported the rebels and disappeared in July in eastern Syria.