ROME — Pope Francis met Friday with a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church ahead of an expected meeting next month in Kazakhstan with the Russian Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill, who has justified the war in Ukraine.

The audience was the first between Francis and the new director of the Moscow Patriarchate’s foreign relations office, Metropolitan Anthony. He replaced the Vatican’s longtime liaison with the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion, who was transferred to Hungary after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Both the pope and Kirill have confirmed their presence in Kazakhstan to attend a government-organized interfaith meeting, the “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions,” from Sept. 14-15. If they meet on the sidelines of the congress, it would be the second-ever encounter between a pope and a Russian patriarch, after a June encounter was canceled because of the diplomatic fallout over Russia’s invasion.

Kirill has justified the invasion of Ukraine on spiritual and ideological grounds, calling it a “metaphysical” battle with the West. He has blessed Russian soldiers going into battle and invoked the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.

Francis’ audience with Kirill’s envoy came on the same day the pope made a symbolically meaningful decision for some Ukrainian Catholics: He declared an underground Ruthenian Greek Catholic priest who ministered during Soviet times in Ukraine, the Rev. Petros Oros, a martyr, fast-tracking him on the path to possible sainthood. Oros lived from 1917 until 1953, when he was killed out of hatred of the faith by Soviet forces, the Vatican said in a statement.

The Holy See’s in-house media arm, Vatican News, said Oros had been shot in the chin a few hours after celebrating a clandestine Divine Liturgy in Siltse. At the time, Catholics had been persecuted and Oros’ eparchy suppressed, and the Vatican noted that Oros had been pressured to transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church but “resisted, remaining faithful to the pope.”

Under the Vatican’s rules for martyrs, Oros can now be beatified — the first step toward possible sainthood — without having to have a miracle attributed to his intercession. A miracle is needed for canonization.