Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Gerard O’ConnellJune 05, 2023
Pope Francis greets Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops' conference, during a meeting with representatives of most of Italy's 227 dioceses and their programs to encourage the financial support of church activities during an audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Feb. 16, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi has begun a two-day peace mission in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, today, “as the envoy of the Holy Father Francis,” the Vatican announced on June 5.

It said that “the main purpose of this initiative is to listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities about possible ways to achieve a just peace and to support gestures of humanity that will help ease tensions.” He will remain in Kyiv on June 5 and June 6, the Vatican stated.

Cardinal Zuppi began his mission on the 467th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since the start of the 15-month long war, an estimated 354,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or injured. More than 1,500 Ukrainian children have been killed or injured, and a quarter of the country’s 44 million population have been forced to leave their homes, including eight million who have become refugees in other countries.

The 67-year-old cardinal is president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference and has much experience in the field of conflict resolution from his days as a member of the Sant’Egidio Community, when he played a key role in brokering peace in 1992 to end the 17-year-long civil war in Mozambique. The Vatican announced on May 20 that Francis had chosen Cardinal Zuppi as his personal envoy for this uphill peace mission, which the pope first mentioned on his return flight from Hungary. It said the aim of the mission is “to help reduce tensions” and create a climate that could open the way to peace talks.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi has begun a two-day peace mission in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, today, “as the envoy of the Holy Father Francis,” the Vatican announced on June 5.

Cardinal Zuppi started his listening session in Kyiv today as local and international media reported that Ukraine was launching its long-awaited major offensive to regain not only the territory that Russia has captured since its 2022 invasion but also Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014.

He is also expected to discuss humanitarian issues, which the Vatican statement describes as “gestures of humanity,” including prisoner exchanges and the return of some 20,000 Ukrainian children who have been forcibly taken to Russia.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state and the pope’s top advisor, explained in an interview with Corriere della Sera, the leading Italian daily, on May 28, that “mediation” is not the “immediate aim” of this peace mission. Rather the goal is “to try above all to create an atmosphere, to foster an environment that can help to lead to paths of peace.”

“Above all,” he said, “it means to enter into the perspective of peace because up to now there is only talk of war and of a military solution, what Pope Francis calls ‘the logic of war.’ But if this paradigm can be changed a little, then perhaps they can begin to think in a different way.”

Cardinal Parolin said: “No one has concrete solutions because there are many elements at play which are difficult to put together: respect for international law, respect for internationally recognized frontiers, the principle of law and not the force of arms…. There are many things to be put together, but this has to be done in a perspective of peace. If we can put ourselves in this perspective, I believe concrete solutions can be found.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, explained in an interview that he goal is “to try above all to create an atmosphere, to foster an environment that can help to lead to paths of peace.”

For the moment, the cardinal said, “the interlocutors will be Moscow and Kyiv,” and after that “we will see” because “we do not want to exclude anyone [in this dialogue].”

The Vatican did not say who the cardinal would talk with in Kyiv, but it is expected that he will meet President Volodimir Zelensky, who was received in a private audience by Pope Francis on May 13 and afterward spoke with the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. In an exclusive interview with America, Archbishop Gallagher said that for the Holy See, “a just peace” means Russian troops have to withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

America has learned from Vatican sources, who did not wish to be named, that while Cardinal Zuppi is expected to meet with many persons in positions of authority in Kyiv, he is unlikely to receive a similar reception in Moscow, at least not from President Vladimir Putin, when he goes to Russia.

Indeed, since the start of the war, Pope Francis has not been able to make any direct contact with President Putin. Moreover, today, TASS, a Russian news agency, quoted Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, as saying that President Putin does not have a meeting with Cardinal Zuppi on his agenda at this time. The Vatican has not yet indicated when the cardinal will travel to Moscow.

“With all respect for his Holiness, we do not need mediators. We need a just peace. We invite the pope, as [we do] other leaders, to work for a just peace, but first we have to do all the rest,” President Zelensky said.

The one thing that appears to be abundantly clear at the moment is that neither side wants a ceasefire. The Ukrainians do not want it now because it would mean that Russia would remain in the captured Ukrainian land. President Zelensky made this clear when he visited Italy and the Vatican on May 13.

After his visit with the pope, Mr. Zelensky was interviewed for more than an hour on Italian state television by the editors of the main Italian dailies. Asked whether he saw a role for the pope as mediator between Russia and Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky replied: “With all respect for his Holiness, we do not need mediators. We need a just peace. We invite the pope, as [we do] other leaders, to work for a just peace, but first we have to do all the rest,” he said, meaning “it’s important to end the war in Ukraine” and, by winning on the battlefield, to put a stop to Mr. Putin’s aggression.

He said he saw no sense in trying to involve Russia in a dialogue at this stage, noting that Mr. Putin failed to uphold the Minsk protocols, which sought to end the conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014 and 2015. “One cannot make a mediation with Putin,” Mr. Zelensky said. “He just knows how to kill.”

Russia, for its part, does not want a ceasefire as it wishes to consolidate the territory it has taken—more than 15 percent of Ukraine—and try to gain some more.

Cardinal Zuppi, for his part, has been reluctant to make any comment on the mission entrusted to him except to reiterate the purpose of the mission and to recall that Pope Francis has been deeply involved in this war, even “to the point of tears.”

The latest from america

A Reflection for Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, by Tim Reidy
In an exclusive interview with Gerard O’Connell, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of the synod’s most influential figures, discusses the role of women, bishops and all the baptized in a synodal church.
Gerard O’ConnellJuly 12, 2024
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, by Alessandra Rose
Alessandra RoseJuly 12, 2024
While theatrical and beautiful, I have come to understand that the Mass is not a show. It is a miracle.
Rebecca Moon RuarkJuly 12, 2024