30 June 2023, The Tablet

Zuppi meets Kirill on Moscow peace mission

The Vatican said that the Pope’s envoy had a “fruitful” encounter with the patriarch.

Zuppi meets Kirill on Moscow peace mission

Patriarch Kirill was reportedly “happy” with the visit of Cardinal Matteo Zuppi.
Associated Press/Alamy

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi met Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on Thursday in the course of a three-day visit to the Russian capital as the Pope’s envoy.

This was the first time a papal representative has met the patriarch since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February. The trip followed Zuppi’s visit to Ukraine earlier this month, where he met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

In a communiqué, the Holy See said that Cardinal Zuppi had “a fruitful encounter” with Kirill, with whom he discussed “humanitarian initiatives that may facilitate a peaceful solution”.

Russian news agencies reported that the patriarch was “happy” with the visit.

“We appreciate that his holiness sent you to Moscow,” he told Zuppi. “You are the head of one of the largest metropolises in Italy and a famous archbishop, who is carrying out an important service for his people.”

Zuppi, the Archbishop of Bologna, is the president of the Italian bishops’ conference. He was pictured sitting across a table from Kirill in the patriarchate’s headquarters, reportedly discussing the importance “of all the forces of the world uniting to prevent a major armed conflict”.

The meeting had not been announced when Zuppi arrived in Moscow on Wednesday. Speaking to Vatican News, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, said that such a meeting would be “a truly important occasion”.

“The Christian faith knows the path of reconciliation and forgiveness, it knows that witness of peace lived in one’s own heart, in families, among people,” he said.

Senior bishops of the patriarchate had been quick to back the Russian government last weekend during the short-lived mutiny by Wagner Group mercenaries under Yevgeny Prigozhin, which Kirill called “the greatest crime with no justification”.

The head of the patriarchate’s department for cooperation with the armed forces, Metropolitan Kirill of Stavropol, pledged support for Vladimir Putin and condemned “sins of treason and betrayal”.

On arrival on Wednesday, Cardinal Zuppi prayed before Our Lady of Vladimir, Mother of Tenderness, the oldest Marian icon in Russia, to whom he dedicated his mission.

He met Yuri Ushakov, foreign policy advisor to President Putin, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

With the latter, he discussed the 19,000 Ukrainian children deported to Russia since the invasion, a subject he had promised Ukrainian officials he would address.

Following the meeting with Ushakov, the Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said in a statement: “In general, we have already stated several times that we highly value the efforts and initiatives of the Vatican in looking for a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis. We welcome this willingness of the Pope to contribute to ending this armed conflict in Ukraine.”

Archbishop Pezzi said that Zuppi’s mission was aimed at “concrete gestures such as a new exchange of prisoners or the announcement of initiatives to support the many refugees and fugitives that this conflict is causing”.

On Thursday evening, the cardinal concelebrated a Mass with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giovanni d’Aniello, and Russia’s Catholic bishops, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow.

Preaching the homily, Zuppi insisted that peace “is not a naïve dream” and that “the Church can never give herself peace for the divisions between her children”.

“She is not naïve,” he said, “she remembers and does not confuse areas of responsibility. She faces adversity as a possibility of love, she sows good to fight evil and restore justice, she supports hope lit in the darkness of darkness.”

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