Over the weekend, on the return flight from Malta, Pope Francis was again questioned about the possibility of his trip to kiev. “There is no no. I’m available. It is on the table. It is one of the proposals. Everything is in the air “, assured the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Jorge Bergoglio also admitted that he spoke twice with the President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky, but not with Russian Vladimir Putin. He accepted that his dialogue with Russia was “through the ambassador” Alexander Avdeev who, in an unusual event, the Pope visited at the diplomatic headquarters of the Russian Federation in the Italian capital, on March 25, immediately after the start of the war.
Beyond Francis’s repeated condemnation of war – “every war is an injustice, always, for the logic of war” – the question that haunts analysts is whether the Vatican and, in particular, Pope Bergoglio, is developing political negotiations to help end the war in Ukraine.
even on weekends Francis praised the Vatican diplomatic corps for having worked “intensely”he said, to help end the war.
Francis himself admitted that he had spoken directly with Patriarch Kirill, the highest authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, who continues to believe that the Moscow offensive is an attempt to restore peace to Ukraine.
“Stop stop!” Francis had asked shortly after the war began, which he described as a “place of death, where fathers and mothers bury their children, where men kill their brothers without even having seen them, where the powerful decide and the poor die.”
But the question that remains latent is whether, behind Francis’s caution, there is no religious conflict between the Russian Orthodox Church and Eastern-rite Catholics who have disputed territory in Ukraine. While Kirill aims at the reunification of the Russian religious tradition under his leadership, the Vatican retains Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk as the authority of Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholics. Both Shevchuk and the nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to Kiev, Visvaldas Kulkobas, have been in Ukrainian territory since the beginning of the war. Shevchuk has known Francis since 2010 when he settled in Buenos Aires, he was sent to direct the Eparchy of Santa María del Patrocinio in Buenos Aires, a jurisdiction that pastorally accompanies the faithful of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic rite in Argentina. This eparchy is equivalent to a Catholic diocese and is integrated, it is a suffragan of the ecclesiastical region headed by the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, of which Jorge Bergoglio was then titular.
Although Archbishop Shevchuk has maintained his position to ask for peace in the current conflict, he has previously expressed his concern and warned about what he called the Russian attempt to return to the Soviet scene, with political consequences for Ukraine. , but also with possible derivations for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Little is known of the possible actions of the nuncio Kulbokas, who remains at the Vatican embassy in Kyiv. It is known that in recent years Kulbokas has been tasked with bringing the positions between Russian Orthodox and Greek Catholics closer, but before that – between 2009 and 2012 – he was an official at the Vatican embassy in Moscow. And later, between 2012 and 2020, he worked at the Vatican Secretariat of State where, in addition to being the translator of the meetings between the Pope and Putin (July 2019), he performed the same function at the meeting between Francis and Kirill. to 2016. Vatican diplomatic sources assure this The nuncio today in Kyiv was also part of the group that prepared the summit meeting between Bergoglio and the highest authority of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Now Kulbokas was extremely cautious in his statements, but on this occasion he defended the diplomatic strategy of the Vatican, excluding an alleged “neutrality”. “When we hear the Holy Father talking about war, there is no neutrality; He condemns it with the strongest words, emphasizing that every war is an invention of the devil, it is a satanic work, ”the nuncio told kyiv speaking for a French Catholic media.
Although it is difficult to establish what the role of the Pope and Vatican diplomacy may be with respect to the war situation in Ukraine, everything indicates that there are open channels for dialogue and negotiation. In an interview granted to The Tablet, a well-known medium linked to British Catholicism, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, former Vatican nuncio to Ukraine, assured with certainty that “President Putin listens to the Pope“.
There are many factors at play for the intervention of the Catholic Church and the Pope in the Ukrainian conflict. In 1978 Bergoglio lived closely the Vatican mediation led by Cardinal Antonio Samoré, which prevented the armed conflict between Argentina and Chile on the Beagle Channel. The Pope is convinced of the mediating capacity and importance of the Church in circumstances such as the present.
But there is also, in this case, a religious motivation. The war hinders an extremely important process for Francis: the rapprochement of the great religions and the aim, however distant, of the reunification of the branches of Christianity. Since his arrival in the pontificate, Francis has made considerable ecumenical efforts, trying to bring together the religious leaders of the great monotheistic traditions. Within this scope, the Pope has also pursued – with little success so far – the reunification of the Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church, among which there are common roots and traditions.
Vatican diplomacy works in silence. For the end of the war, but also for reasons related to the religious strategy of Francis, which is not only the rapprochement between religious traditions, but also the conviction that their main responsibility is to collaborate for peace in the world.