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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 25, 2022
View of an explosion near Dnipro, Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in Ukraine, in this image obtained by Reuters. (CNS photo/Reuters)

As news reports suggested Russian tanks and troops were about to enter Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, Pope Francis visited the Russian embassy to the Holy See in Rome this morning, Feb. 25, “to express his concern at the war.”

Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican press office, broke the news around noon today in Rome. Pope Francis visited the Russian embassy on the Via della Conciliazione, the road that leads up to the Vatican, and spent “more than half an hour there.” He spoke with the Russian ambassador, Alexander Avdeyev, various sources said.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Russian embassy has few if any precedents and reflects the depth of his concern and his readiness to do anything to promote peace.

Sources informed America that Mr. Avdeyev told Russian media that “the pope wished to personally ask about the situation in Donbas and in Ukraine” and expressed his concern for the conditions of the populations in Donbas and in the rest of the country. “The pope made an appeal to take care of the children, the sick and those who are suffering,” he said.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See has previously said Ukraine would welcome papal mediation in the conflict. On Feb. 24, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state and the pope’s right-hand man, stated clearly the Holy See’s conviction that there was still room for dialogue. In a statement on the crisis in Ukraine, he said:

In light of today's developments in the crisis in Ukraine, we see even more clearly the timeliness of the clear and heartfelt appeal that the Holy Father made yesterday at the conclusion of the General Audience. The Pope spoke of “great sorrow,” “anguish and concern.” He also urged all the parties involved to “refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing coexistence between nations and bringing international law into disrepute.”
This appeal has taken on dramatic urgency following the beginning of Russian military operations in Ukrainian territory. The tragic scenarios that everyone feared are becoming a reality. Yet there is still time for goodwill, there is still room for negotiation, there is still a place for the exercise of a wisdom that can prevent the predominance of partisan interest, safeguard the legitimate aspirations of everyone, and spare the world from the folly and horrors of war.
As believers, we do not lose hope for a glimmer of conscience on the part of those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the world. And we continue to pray and fast—as we shall do this coming Ash Wednesday—for peace in Ukraine and in the entire world.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Russian embassy has few if any precedents and reflects the depth of his concern and his readiness to do anything to promote peace. Formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Soviet Union were only established in 1990, shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Numerous world leaders have called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the greatest threat to peace in Europe since the Second World War.

His visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See in Rome took place as Russian tanks and troops arrived at the outskirts of Kyiv.

His visit took place as Russian tanks and troops arrived at the outskirts of Kyiv and seemed poised to enter the city or envelop it. Various media sources reported explosions in a residential part of the city early this morning, and some reported that missiles had hit targets in the city as well. Thousands have fled the city to seek refuge in neighboring countries, including Poland, Slovakia and Moldova, while thousands more sought refuge in bomb shelters or the city’s subway and many others remained indoors. A city of three million, Kyiv seems deserted, reporters there say.

Elsewhere in the country, particularly in the southeastern region of Donbas, fierce fighting continues. Western governments have made clear they will not send in troops to defend Ukraine. “We are left alone to defend our homeland,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said from his hideout in Kyiv. The U.N. refugee agency estimates the number of refugees and displaced persons in this country of 44 million could reach five million in a short time.

The Vatican also announced today that Pope Francis has “an acute pain in his knee” and his doctor has “prescribed an extended period of rest for his leg.” He has canceled a visit to Florence scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 27, to meet with bishops and mayors of Mediterranean cities and towns to focus on key issues of concern for the communities bordering the Mediterranean Sea. He had also planned to celebrate Mass in the city. The Vatican also announced that the pope would not participate in Rome’s traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy, which involved an open-air procession and the celebration of Mass at the basilica church of San Saba, next Wednesday, March 2.

The pope has apparently been suffering from knee pain for several weeks, and at a recent public audience he was unable to walk down steps to meet visitors. Vatican officials gave no indication as to how long the period of rest would be.

On Feb. 24, Pope Francis participated in a virtual encounter for almost two hours with university students from the Americas organized by Loyola Chicago University and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He was seated throughout but did not show any sign of pain.

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