From the Telegraph.co.uk:
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.
His arrival in Assisi was described as “spiritual perestroika” by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.
“St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ,” said Mr Gorbachev. “His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life,” he added.
Mr Gorbachev’s surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.
The Telegraph, however, got nearly everything wrong about St. Francis, but that’s beside the point. According to the Times Online, Putin has joined the Orthodox Church as well:
Mr Gorbachev has long acknowledged that he was influenced by his grandmother, an Orthodox believer and is a a regular participant in peace conferences in the Umbrian town where St Francis is buried. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has also turned to Orthodox Christianity and wears a cross round his neck.
People laughed at Ronald Reagan when he had voiced suspicions that Gorbachev was a “closet believer.” Well, it seems that Reagan was right once again. It’s not clear exactly when Gorbachev made a full conversion to Christianity, but it appears that there were at least seeds going back to his childhood, and his meeting with the Pope can now possibly be looked at in a new light.
What impact will this have on Russia? It’s hard to say. I’m not an expert (or even a novice) at Russian culture, but I suspect that there are many Russians who – while maintaining the official atheism – had some leanings toward Christianity who may at least consider Gorbachev’s admission of faith as reason to reconsider.
It’s good news for Gorbachev, obviously, and can only help bolster the church in Russia.