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Russia on Friday indicated that it views Pope Francis’ Ukraine peace initiative positively, but stressed that there are no immediate plans for a Vatican mission to Moscow.
The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the state RIA Novosti agency was the first public acknowledgment by Moscow of the pope’s move. It followed the Vatican’s weekend announcement that a veteran of the Catholic Church’s peace mediation initiatives, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, had been tapped by Francis as his envoy.
“We acknowledge the Holy See’s sincere desire to promote the peace process,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to RIA Novosti. “At the same time, no practical steps have been taken by the Vatican side to organize the trip to Moscow.”
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Zuppi told reporters Thursday that the scope of the mission was to “help ease the tensions of the conflict” in hopes it could contribute to “paths of peace.” He drew a parallel to his efforts in the 1990s, alongside the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community, to help mediate peace talks that ended civil war in Mozambique.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, head of the Italian Conference of Bishops, speaks during a press conference at The Vatican on May 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Then too, Zuppi noted, the church’s initiative began with a hope to find “paths of peace,” and resulted in meetings that brought warring sides closer together with “bonds weaved” between factions, and ultimately a peace deal.
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“The effort (in Ukraine) will definitely be in that sense,” Zuppi said, speaking at the conclusion of a gathering of the Italian Bishops Conference. “We’ll see.”
Francis announced the existence of a peace mission while en route home last month from Hungary, where he met with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has strongly supported the Kremlin’s war. In the weeks since, Francis has met at the Vatican with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who made clear he would not accept territorial concessions and rejected Francis’ reference to victims on both sides of the conflict, saying there can be no equivalence between victim and aggressor.
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Zuppi noted that Francis’ hope for peace had “brought the Holy Father to tears,” a reference to Dec. 8, when Francis wept before a statue of the Madonna in downtown Rome as he prayed for peace in Ukraine.