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Ukrainian leaders wary of Vatican ‘peace mission’  

02 June 2023


A building in Kyiv damaged during a Russian drone attack on Tuesday. One person was killed in the attack

A building in Kyiv damaged during a Russian drone attack on Tuesday. One person was killed in the attack

THE Vatican needs to understand the conflict in Ukraine, a Ukrainian government official has said as the Pope’s plans for a “peace mission” drew criticism.

“Ukrainians are grateful to the Holy Father for his humanitarian support in words and deeds — at the heart of this, in line with Christian principles, are children, prisoners, and victims,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

“It’s necessary, however, to have a sound understanding of this war, as well as of the kind of peace being talked about. Peace by itself is not enough if it only means the end of war.”

He was commenting as the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, prepared to make approaches to the Ukrainian and Russian governments.

Mr Podolyak told Italy’s RAI-News broadcaster that a “true and lasting peace” must be “based on truth and justice”, and said that Kyiv would not negotiate until Moscow’s forces pulled back to Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders.

Professor Lyudmila Filipovych, a religion specialist at the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv, told Ukrainian Public Radio on Monday that Pope Francis appeared to be motivated by “a sense of universal guilt” for Christianity’s East-West division, but warned that Russia’s Orthodox leaders could not be viewed as “normal Christians if they sanctify weapons and rejoice in death”.

She continued: “The Pope has his own vision and world-view — his experience is specific and far removed from the complex European configurations unfolding here. I’m sceptical about naïve attempts to appeal to criminals, and I don’t remember appeals to Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin ever stopping terror and discrimination. A criminal is like an alcoholic: he doesn’t consider himself a criminal.”

Preaching in St Peter’s Basilica on 25 May, five days after his mission to “initiate paths of peace” was announced by the Vatican, Cardinal Zuppi said that Ukrainians had been “engulfed in a fratricidal machine of war”, and that it was his Church’s duty to accompany those “feeling hurt, aggressive, and bitter”.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s RC Kyiv-Zhytomyr diocese said, however, that clergy in the capital had received no notification of the Italian Cardinal’s itinerary or date of arrival. The Vatican’s own Kyiv Nunciature also said that it had no information about the mission “beyond what was reported in the media”.

A senior prelate said that Ukraine’s Catholics also considered it “naïve” to expect a Vatican representative to “help bring peace”. He feared that Russian propagandists would use Cardinal Zuppi’s mission “to suggest Ukraine is resisting Vatican proposals”.

The Bishop of Odessa-Simferopol, the Rt Revd Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk, said: “Given Moscow’s current pact with the devil, I can’t see how it could be open to a Vatican peace mission. While we pray that God will convert this aggressor, the war nevertheless continues, bearing ever more terrible fruits, as the same aggressor acts out its hatred in an attempt at colonisation. We will never accept its conditions, and never agree to captivity as the price of peace.”

Church and government leaders in Ukraine and Eastern Europe have criticised previous Vatican diplomatic initiatives during the war, and voiced disappointment at the Pope’s reluctance to condemn Russia and President Putin for the invasion in February 2022.

The exchanges took place as further deaths and injuries were reported in successive Russian missile attacks on Kyiv and other cities, and as residential areas of Moscow were hit for the first time by drones on Monday night, in a new escalation of the 15-month war.

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