Pope Francis and the Vatican have, for weeks now, been trying to mediate diplomatically in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Their actions, which have been seen at all levels, have been unsuccessful until now. But on March 22, the pontiff received an invitation from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to travel to Ukraine. The invite was offered during a phone call between the pair.
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, has also invited the pope to visit. Until now, Francis had not said anything on the matter. But during a flight on Saturday to Malta, where he will be staying for two days, he answered journalists’ questions about a possible visit to the war-torn country. “Yes, it is on the table,” the pope replied.
The Vatican has taken great care not to burn its diplomatic bridges with Moscow, given that they were already greatly damaged. The language has, until now, been very ambiguous. Pope Francis has not uttered the words “Russia” or “Putin” to refer to the war. The Holy See has sent several representatives to the area: papal almoner Konrad Krajewski, who is Polish, and Michael Czerny, a Czechoslovakian-born Canadian cardinal.
The main sticking point, however, is the different views of the conflict between the Vatican and the Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow, Bishop Kirill. The latter has been much more belligerent, even justifying the invasion on religious and moral grounds, something that has caused a lot of discomfort in Rome.
On March 17, however, the positions began to converge and an important channel of dialogue opened up between the two churches, which have a complicated relationship – in particular since Kirill deepened his tendency to become the spiritual branch of the expansionist and bellicose policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The remote meeting between the two spiritual leaders that day could have cleared the path for a trip to Kiev. It would be a difficult step to take, however, if it were not accompanied by the same gesture on the part of Kirill.
Icy currents of war
On arrival in Malta, Francisco continued to discuss the issue in his first speech, referring to the “icy” currents of war that have been arriving from the east in recent days. In particular, he appeared to be pointing directly at the Russian president for the first time. He still didn’t go so far as to name him, as he has avoided doing in recent months.
The conflict, Francisco stated, has been brewing for years, and here he did apportion blame. “Yes, there have been preparations for the war for a long time now, with major investments and the sale of arms,” he said. “And it’s sad to see how the enthusiasm for peace, which arose after the Second World War, has weakened in recent decades, as well as the path of the international community, with the powerful few who move forward on their own account, seeking spaces and areas of influence. And in this way, not just peace, but also so many other major issues, such as the fight against hunger and inequalities, have been wiped off the main political agendas,” he stated.