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Doomed or Sign of Hope? Pope Francis’ Mission for Peace in Ukraine Is Underway

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is supporting Zuppi in working toward peaceful solutions, praised the latest mission as a sign of the “additional contribution the Holy See can give toward peace,” but emphasized the importance of Vatican diplomacy with Moscow as well.

“The pope’s idea was that of a mission that would take place in both capitals,” he told reporters on Wednesday; “that solution should remain open.”

Zuppi expressed uncertainty about visiting Moscow or meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Zuppi said his latest trip “was not a mediation, but a manifestation of interest, closeness, listening, so that the conflict might find paths toward peace.” He dismissed all other theories about the pope’s mission as “hopes or speculations.”

Overshadowing the trip was the unfolding destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and the flood that followed, which some observers have described as “an ecological catastrophe.” It remains unclear whether Russia or Ukraine is responsible for the incident, with both sides blaming the other. Zuppi voiced “concern” over the attack and described the ravaged city of Bucha as “the most harrowing moment of the trip.”

This image made available by Vatican News shows Pope Francis meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a private audience at the Vatican, Saturday, May 13, 2023. (Vatican News via AP)

In Ukraine, where only 5% of the population is Catholic, the papal mission for peace “has no real prospect,” according to Dominican Father Jaroslaw Krawiec. Speaking to Swiss news outlet Cath.ch, the Ukrainian priest said that, while the humanitarian work the church does in Ukraine is greatly appreciated, the same cannot be said for its offers to mediate a peace.

“I share in the opinion by many commentators that Pope Francis, and the Holy See in general, cannot play a decisive role in this conflict,” Krawiec said, adding the pope’s decision “to put on the same level all the victims of the war, without truly pointing out the aggressors, hurt people.” He said the pope’s meeting with Zelenskyy at the Vatican in May had nearly no news coverage in Ukraine.

Government diplomats from seven African countries hope to meet with diplomats from Russia and Ukraine later this month. With other countries stepping up to promote peace in the conflict, some question whether it makes sense for the Vatican to stubbornly offer its mediation.

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Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said in a statement that, while there are currently no plans for a meeting in Moscow, the Kremlin “looks favorably at the Vatican efforts to put an end to the conflict in Ukraine.”

This is reassuring for those who believe a lasting peace is not possible without Russia having a seat at the negotiating table. “It’s a sign of hope,” said Mons. Paolo Pezzi, the Catholic archbishop in Moscow and president of the bishops in the Russian federation. “The visit by Cardinal Zuppi and the humanitarian efforts are two small flames that shed a little light in the pitch black. I am not a dreamer, I am aware of the challenges, but I don’t care. I care about those little lights.”

While Pope Francis recovers at the hospital after a surgery to remove an incisional hernia, Vatican diplomacy efforts are planned to continue.

“Pope Francis won’t give up,” Zuppi said, “so much so that he wanted this mission because he doesn’t want to surrender and wishes to find anything that can bring about a path toward peace.”

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