Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Communist leader, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time in a surprise visit to the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, he spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb. "St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ," he said. "His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life."
"It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb," said Mr Gorbachev.
"I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity."
The visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although Mr Gorbachev, 77, had to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a 1989 meeting with Pope John Paul II in a new light.
He was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians. His wife Raisa's parents were killed during World War II for having religious icons in their home.
Telegraph: Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian