Pope Francis and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the war in Ukraine and hopes for peace there during a private audience at the Vatican on Monday.
Milley, who is Catholic, afterwards told reporters travelling with him that the visit meant a great deal to him, according to Milley's spokesperson, Colonel Dave Butler.
The general, who is visiting several European countries, said the pope was deeply concerned about the loss of life in Ukraine, particularly of civilians, since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Milley has sharply criticized Moscow as mounting "a campaign of terror" against civilians in Ukraine, including by targeting civilian infrastructure as part of its war strategy.
A strong advocate for Ukraine's defence against Russian forces, Milley, 65, has championed sending billions of dollars in arms to Kyiv.
Francis has condemned the international arms trade in general but said last year that it is morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russian aggression.
As is customary with private papal audiences, the Vatican listed the meeting on the pope's schedule but gave no details of the discussions.
The four-star Army general, who retires later this year, made headlines in November by cautioning against the likelihood of an outright Ukrainian military victory in the near term while highlighting the possibility of a political solution to end the fighting.
Francis has asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to be open to dialogue with Russia but Zelenskiy wants the Vatican to back Kyiv's peace plan, which calls for restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, and the restoration of Ukraine's state borders.
The 86-year-old pope, meanwhile, has sent his own peace envoy, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, primarily to discuss humanitarian aid and the repatriation of Ukrainian children.
Kyiv estimates nearly 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since February 2022, in what it condemns as illegal deportations.
Vatican officials say Zuppi will soon go to Beijing to try to enlist China's support.