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U.S.'s Pompeo, Pope Francis urge religious freedom in Mideast, elsewhere - State Dept.

U.S.'s Pompeo, Pope Francis urge religious freedom in Mideast, elsewhere - State Dept.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Pope Francis on the sidelines of a symposium at the Vatican, October 3, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. Vatican Media/­Reuters TV via REUTERS -
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VATICANCITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed on the importance of protecting the rights of Christian minorities in the Middle East during a meeting at the Vatican on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said.

Pompeo, whose trip to Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Greece has been overshadowed by an impeachment inquiry at home targeting President Donald Trump, met the pope for about a half an hour.

“They reaffirmed the United States and Holy See commitment to advancing religious freedom around the world, and in particular, protecting Christian communities in the Middle East,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

Ancient Christian communities face persecution or harassment in some Middle Eastern countries, and many Christians have left to build new lives in the West.

The Vatican did not issue a statement on the contents of the meeting. It usually does so only when the pope meets heads of state.

On Wednesday Pompeo attended a Vatican conference on religious freedom where he blasted China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Pompeo has already met Italian leaders and is due to visit his ancestral home in the rugged Abruzzo region northeast of Rome before leaving Italy.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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