Cardinal Zuppi is in Kiev for 2 days as Pope Francis' envoy, but this is certainly not the first conflict zone he's entered with a mission of peace.
Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi is traveling to Kiev “as an envoy of the Pope” on June 5 and 6, 2023, announced the Vatican press office on June 5. The mission of the archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference is “to listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities regarding possible ways of achieving lasting peace, and to support gestures of humanity that contribute to easing tensions.”
On May 20, the Pontiff entrusted the Italian cardinal with the task of “leading a mission, in agreement with the Secretariat of State, to contribute to the easing of tensions in the conflict in Ukraine.”
At the time, the Holy See announced that the details of this diplomatic intervention were still under study.
Cardinal Zuppi has long been a member of the lay Sant’Egidio community, a Catholic association committed to ecumenical dialogue and working for peace.
In fact, the cardinal has a long history of helping to bring about peace in certain serious world conflicts.
While still just a priest, he acted as a mediator in several conflicts. He mediated in 1992 in Mozambique, which at that time was being torn apart by civil war. He subsequently mediated on behalf of Sant’Egidio in Tanzania, Cuba, Kosovo, and Basque Country in 2017, when members of ETA decided to make him their ‘moral witness’ when they laid down their arms.
The Sant’Egidio community has taken on significant importance under Francis’ pontificate, sometimes being described as a diplomatic agency parallel to that of the Secretariat of State.
According to Reuters, the mission entrusted to the 67-year-old Italian cardinal is to meet separately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Pope’s envoys to Ukraine
While no papal representative has been received in Moscow since the beginning of the conflict, Cardinal Zuppi is not the first papal representative to visit Ukraine.
Francis has sent Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity and papal almoner, to the war-torn country five times, where he has brought medical supplies and ambulances.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also made a brief visit to Ukraine from the Hungarian border in March 2022.
Other cardinals have visited Ukraine without being asked to do so by the Pope, such as Swedish Cardinal Anders Arborelius on June 1.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and linchpin of papal diplomacy, also visited Ukraine from May 18 to 20, 2022. “My visit is intended to demonstrate the closeness of the Holy See and Pope Francis to the Ukrainian people, particularly in light of Russia’s aggression,” he said at the time.
According to a Vatican source, for a time the Holy See had been considering a visit by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, but ruled it out because it could be perceived as preparation for a papal visit. During the first months of the conflict, the Pope had expressed his wish to visit both Moscow and Kiev, before abandoning this project in the face of reluctance on the part of both Ukraine and Russia.