Pope Francis has not changed his mind. He has announced that he wants to go to Moscow and Kyiv after his trip to Canada. The sovereign pontiff has again made known his desire to go to Russia “to try to help with something,” he confided on July 2 to the Vaticanist Philip Pullella in an interview published by Reuters on July 4, 2022.
Previously, on May 3, the Argentine pontiff had explained in the columns of Corriere della Sera that he had asked Vladimir Putin if he could go to Russia, three weeks after the start of the offensive in Ukraine. He then confided that he had not received a response from the Russian president and expressed his fear that “Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this time.”
For his part, Dmitry Pesko, spokesperson for the Kremlin, says that a visit by Pope Francis to Russia and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin are not under discussion at the moment, advised the Russian agency Interfax on July 6, 2022. “Such a summit visit must be discussed, it must be prepared, but as far as I know there are no substantial contacts for this at the moment,” the Russian spokesperson said.
However, on June 14, the director of the first European department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexej Paramonov had confirmed the existence of a “confidential dialogue” between the Holy See and Russia on “a certain number of questions” concerning Ukraine, especially humanitarian ones. Indeed, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Vatican has maintained an open diplomatic position vis-à-vis Russia.
Journalist Philip Pullella, who had a 90 minute interview with the pontiff at St. Martha’s House, indicates that this trip could take place in September. He wrote, “Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there have been contacts between the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, about a possible trip to Moscow.”
The pope specified that the dialogue with Russia has remained “very open, very cordial, very diplomatic in the positive sense of the term.” And he assures that, “For the moment everything is fine, the door is open.”
The pope would like to “go to Moscow first” before going to Kiev. “We exchanged messages about this, because I thought that if the President of Russia gave me a little window, I would go there to serve the cause of peace,” adds the pope who has received the Russian President at the Vatican three times.
“And now, it is possible that when I return from Canada, I will be able to go to Ukraine, it is possible...,”, insists the pontiff. He clarifies again that “the first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in one way or another, but I would like to go to both capitals.”
During the July 31 Angelus, on his return from his visit to Canada, the pope confided “to not ceasing to pray during his journey for the Ukrainian people attacked and martyred, asking God to free them from the scourge of war.” And he added that “the only reasonable thing to do is to stop and negotiate.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, denounced Putin's “brutal war of aggression” and harshly criticized the attitude of Patriarch Kirill. The Swiss cardinal also judged that a meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and Pope Francis would remain subject to “serious misunderstandings” as long as the conflict lasted.
“It is very difficult to continue this dialogue during the war, because the positions are extremely different. The Holy Father has repeatedly declared how terrible and absurd war is. On the other hand, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has not only legitimized, but also blessed this horrible war in Ukraine, with metaphysical and religious motives,” the cardinal explained in an interview with Vatican Radio on July 2.
Pope Francis, at the beginning of May, had publicly taken up the attitude of the head of the Russian Church, explaining that he could not become “Putin's altar boy.” A meeting between the two men, scheduled for June in Jerusalem, was canceled. But the hypothesis that they will meet on the sidelines of the Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan, which will be held on September 14 and 15, has long been topical.
This seventh interreligious congress in Kazakhstan will have as its theme “the role of the leaders of world and traditional religions in the socio-spiritual development of humanity in the post-pandemic period.”
The Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurash, assured on July 10, 2022 that he was doing everything possible to prevent a new meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis from taking place.
“We diplomats are doing everything possible to prevent this meeting from taking place,” the ambassador explained in an interview with Radio Liberty. It would not be beneficial for ecumenical dialogue and would not add authority to the apostolic capital because it is a meeting with the devil's advocate.”
It seems that this diplomacy has been effective, as Patriarch Kirill will ultimately not travel to Kazakhstan for the aforementioned Congress. This is what the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Antoine of Volokolamsk, told the Russian agency RIA Novosti on August 24.