Pope Francis also admits that he doesn't see a trip to Kyiv as useful.
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Pope Francis has seemed to distance himself from any idea of going to Kyiv, questioning the effectiveness of such a gesture. He also confided that any initial plans to meet with Patriarch Kirill in Jerusalem next June have been suspended; according to him, such a meeting could “lead to a lot of confusion.”
The Pope spoke of these issues in an interview published on April 21, 2022, by the Argentine daily La Nacion.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, there has been chatter in various circles about the Pope going to the capital of the besieged nation, and the mayor asked him to come (though naturally this isn’t protocol for how a pontiff is invited to a nation).
The Pope has made countless appeals for the end of the war, and in La Nacion he said again he was “ready to do everything” to end the war.
But Pope Francis admitted a sense of perplexity about the idea of going to the Ukrainian capital, suggesting he does not want to do anything to “jeopardize the higher objectives,” which are for him the end of the war, a truce, or at least the opening of humanitarian corridors.
“What use would it be for the Pope to go to Kyiv if the war continued the next day?” Without elaborating on his answer, he implied that he was not yet convinced of the real usefulness of such a trip.
The Holy Father thus echoes what his representative in Ukraine has already said:
“It would be beautiful and of great significance to have the Pontiff among us, but I have thought long and hard with the bishops and, unfortunately, it is not at all easy to organize a visit in this situation,” said Bishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the nuncio.
He explained: “It is one thing to arrive in Kyiv with precautions and safe means, as some European leaders have done to have confidential meetings and try to advance the negotiations. It is another to imagine an almost secret and clandestine visit by the Pope. This is not possible. A minimum of truce would be indispensable both for the Pope and for the people who should participate in prayer with him. Without these minimal conditions, which are currently difficult to achieve, the safety of all would be jeopardized.”
The Pope and the Patriarch
La Nacion also asked Francis about his relationship with Patriarch Kirill, and the 85-year-old Pontiff described it as “very good.”
However, while a project for a meeting in Jerusalem between the Patriarch of Moscow and himself was under consideration, the Pope clearly closed that door: “I regret that the Vatican had to suspend [the project of] a second meeting with Patriarch Kirill, which we had planned for June in Jerusalem.”
And he explained in a few words the reasons for this decision: “Our diplomacy has understood that a meeting between the two at this time could lead to much confusion.”
The Moscow Patriarchate confirmed the postponement of a meeting between the two men via a statement by Metropolitan Hilarion.
The postponement of this meeting – which had been decided “from last autumn” – was reported by the Russian agency RIA Novosti on April 22, quoting the words of Metropolitan Hilarion. “The events of the past two months have forced us to adjust plans and postpone the meeting. Too many difficulties would arise at this time in its preparation. This concerns security, logistics, and public coverage of the meeting,” explains the number two of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“A pope never names a head of state”
In the interview with the Argentine media, the Bishop of Rome also returned to his unprecedented gesture of going to the Russian embassy near the Holy See just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It was a decision I made during a night of vigilance, thinking about Ukraine,” he says, indicating that he had not wanted to be accompanied by anyone. “I went alone,” he said, adding that he wanted to do something “so that there would not be another death in Ukraine.” Besides, “the Vatican never rests,” he assured.
Finally, when the Argentine journalist asked him why he has never yet mentioned the name of Vladimir Putin and Russia to denounce the war, the Pope simply replied: “A pope never names a head of state, and even less a country, which is superior to its head of state.”
[Article updated after publication with information regarding Moscow Patriarchate.]