Gorbachev makes Assisi visit

27 March 2008

by Bill Bowder

MIKHAIL Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has visited the tomb of St Francis in Assisi, Italy, amid renewed speculation that the former President has been a secret Christian for years.

The visit, reported in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, said that Mr Gorbachev, aged 77, was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church as a child, and that his parents were Christian. “St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life.”

The former President spent some time in silent meditation at the tomb. He said: “It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church; so it was important that I visit his tomb.”

Dr Philip Boobbyer, a senior lecturer in Russian and Soviet history at the University of Kent, said Mr Gorbachev had been formed against a background of Stalinist ideas. He had been the first Soviet leader to bring the Orthodox Church back into public life. But, he said, it would be hard to believe that Christian faith had played “ a main part” in the former President’s policies.

On Wednesday, the Gorbachev Foundation denied that he was a practising Christian.

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