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Cardinal Zuppi meets Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shaking hands with Pope Francis' peace envoy to Ukraine Cardinal Matteo Zuppi


I.Media - published on 06/06/23

Cardinal Zuppi met with Ukraine's president to support efforts for peace and the easing of tensions. Zelensky said that "the algorithm for achieving peace can be Ukrainian only."

Cardinal Mateo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and Pope Francis’ special envoy to Ukraine, met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 6, 2023 in Kiev. The head of state made the announcement with video via Telegram. While welcoming the Holy See’s efforts to promote peace, the head of state asserted that, “since the war is on our territory, the algorithm for achieving peace can be Ukrainian only.”

The cardinal will report to the Pope on the content of this meeting and his stay in Kiev on his return, as announced by the Holy See in a press release.

Cardinal Zuppi was sent by Pope Francis on June 5 to “listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities on possible ways of achieving lasting peace, and to support gestures of humanity that contribute to easing tensions.”

Despite the Pope’s numerous appeals for an end to the war over the past year, this “mission” is not officially presented by the Holy See as a mediation for peace — an option rejected by both Kiev and Moscow.

After meeting several people in Kiev involved in humanitarian action, the cardinal, a member of Sant’Egidio — the Catholic association for which he has conducted several mediations in the past (Burundi, Mozambique, Basque Country) — was lastly received by President Zelensky on Tuesday. For his part, Zelensky met Pope Francis during a visit to Rome on May 13.

Kiev insists there is no alternative to the Ukrainian peace plan

The video of the meeting between the pontifical emissary and the president shows the latter warmly welcoming the Italian cardinal before spending some time in conversation around a table — the original sound having been cut during editing. During the meeting, Zelensky was accompanied by several advisors, as was Cardinal Zuppi, supported by Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine.

While the images show a certain cordiality, the tone of the communiqué issued by the President is firmer. The two men discussed the situation in Ukraine and humanitarian cooperation, but, Kiev insists, “in the framework of the Ukrainian Peace Formula.”

Zelensky explicitly asks the Holy See to “contribute to the implementation” of this plan.

In addition to the withdrawal of Russian troops, the Ukrainian peace plan calls for reparations and the prosecution of Russian warlords. “Only united efforts, diplomatic isolation and pressure on Russia can influence the aggressor and bring a just peace to the Ukrainian land,” said the President after his meeting with the Cardinal. He then insisted, “Ukraine welcomes the readiness of other states and partners to find ways to peace, but since the war is on our territory, the algorithm for achieving peace can be Ukrainian only.”

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Holy See has denounced Russian aggression and called for solidarity with the Ukrainian people, but has also adopted a certain diplomatic neutrality, advocating continued dialogue with Moscow. At a press conference last September, Pope Francis said he believed the first step towards peace could be taken by the Russians.

Support for the release of prisoners and children

Volodymyr Zelensky also reportedly denounced Russia’s “horrific war crimes” to the Pontiff’s emissary, in particular the recent destruction of the Kakhovka dam and hydro-electric power plant on June 6.

According to Kiev, Cardinal Zuppi “expressed Pope Francis’ solidarity with the Ukrainian people.” The two men also discussed “the need to involve the widest possible range of countries, including those of the South” at a forthcoming international peace summit supported by Ukraine and the G7 countries.

President Zelensky also noted that the Holy See could contribute to the release of Ukrainian prisoners and the return of deported children. The Italian cardinal reportedly assured him of the Holy See’s readiness to implement these humanitarian initiatives.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, the Holy See did not comment on the meeting, but said that Cardinal Zuppi had “concluded his brief but intense mission” in Kiev.

The Holy See affirms that the talks held over the two days and the “direct experience of the suffering of the Ukrainian people” will be “brought to the attention” of the Pope by the Archbishop of Bologna when he returns to Rome. This information “will undoubtedly be useful to assess the next steps to be taken both on a humanitarian level and in the search for paths to a just and lasting peace.”

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