19 May 2023, The Tablet

Pope sends peace envoy to Kyiv

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, has experience of high-stakes diplomacy.

Pope sends peace envoy to Kyiv

Pope Francis met Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the Vatican last Saturday.
Independent Photo Agency SRL/Alamy

Pope Francis is sending an envoy to Kyiv as part of his peace mission and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

The usually well-informed “Il Sismografo” Church news site reports that Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is to go to Ukraine.

Cardinal Zuppi, the Archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, is a member of the peace and justice group Sant’Egidio, which has a history of conflict resolution.

The cardinal helped broker a peace deal in Mozambique in 1992 to end the country’s civil war.

At the end of April, the Pope said the Holy See was involved in a peace mission in Ukraine and, last Saturday, met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the Vatican.

The Holy See has repeatedly offered its services as a mediator in the conflict, although Zelenksiy has pushed back against this request, and Putin has refused to speak to the Pope.

But Francis has already been involved in securing prisoner exchanges and, after meeting with President Zelenskiy, reiterated the urgent need for “humanitarian gestures”, which was understood to reference the missing children.

While the prospect of the Pope mediating peace in the short term looks remote, the hope is that, further down the line, the Holy See could have some influence in securing an end to the conflict.

Following his audience with Francis, President Zelenskiy wrote on social media that he’d asked the Pope “to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine, because there can be no equality between the victim and aggressor”.

He told Italian television that Ukraine does “not need mediators. We need a just peace.”

The Pope has repeatedly spoken of “martyred” Ukraine but has faced fierce criticism for not naming Russia as the aggressor, as he tries to keep a channel of dialogue open with Putin. The Holy See, Francis says, seeks to exercise a “positive neutrality” on global affairs.

In a 2022 interview with The Tablet, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti – then the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain – explained the theological foundations of Holy See diplomacy.

“The Vatican approach is to invoke a gesture or a word by the Holy Spirit that can enter the heart of the other person. In some situations, I couldn’t utter a single word, and then the word arrives,” he said.

“The goal of the Holy See is always to be an extreme possibility when all other possibilities have expired.”

Gugerotti, who now heads the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, added that “President Putin listens to the Pope” and has a “certain kind of respect” for Francis and his moral authority.

It had been speculated that Archbishop Gugerotti would go to Moscow as part of the Pope’s peace and humanitarian efforts, but the archbishop’s office has denied this is the case.

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