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.
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 CITY - 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.