ROME – Ukraine’s government has not been shy in voicing its willingness to let the Vatican help mediate in the war with Russia.
Now the mayor of Kyiv, the country’s capital, has issued a formal invitation for Pope Francis to visit the city.
“We believe that the world religious leader’s presence in person in Kyiv is key for saving lives and paving the path to peace in our city, country and beyond,” says the March 8 letter signed by Vitaly Klitshko.
The letter was leaked to the media on Tuesday, and Crux has been able to independently verify its authenticity.
Klitshko also says that if a journey to Kyiv is not possible, “we kindly ask for a joint video conference, to be recorded or broadcast live. Efforts will be made to include President Zelenskyy in this call.”
“We appeal to you, as a spiritual leader, to show your compassion, to stand with the Ukrainian people by jointly spreading the call for peace,” wrote the mayor to the pope.
The Vatican has acknowledged Klitshko’s letter.
Francis and his closest advisers have repeatedly expressed their willingness to help in any way they can. Last week, two cardinals were dispatched to Ukraine, Michael Czerny and Konrad Krajewsky. The Vatican’s press office announced Monday that Czerny is going back on Wednesday.
The letter began to circulate minutes before Klitshko announced a 35-hour-long curfew in the city due to a “difficult and dangerous situation.” It will last until 7 a.m. local time on March 17.
This is not the first time Kyiv’s mayor has appealed to Pope Francis to visit the Ukrainian capital. He released a video on March 5 inviting religious leaders from around the world – specifically naming the pope, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Dalai Lama, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill – to come to Kyiv.
Let us make Kyiv the capital of humanity, spirituality and peace.#StopTheWar #United #StandTogether #Ukraine #Kyiv #StandWithUkraine #FreeUkraine #WeAreAllUkrainians #StopWar #ActNow @Vitaliy_Klychko pic.twitter.com/MoBCiiTpri
— Klitschko (@Klitschko) March 5, 2022
“The dignity of man is being called into question,” he had said in the video, which was in English. “What is happening in the heart of Europe touches the hearts of all the inhabitants of our planet who love justice and values of goodness, regardless of their region or religion. I expressly appeal to religious leaders to take a stand and assume the moral function that is incumbent upon them and to proudly assume the responsibility of their religions for peace.”
He then invites them all to visit Kyiv and “show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” and calls on the city to become the capital of “humanity, spirituality and peace.”
Earlier this year, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said that Pope Francis had every intention of visiting Ukraine this year.
“We have several times expressed the desire that the Holy Father visit Ukraine. We have invited him and repeated it often,” Shevchuk said shortly before the Russian invasion. “We are hopeful. Gestures are very important and visiting Ukraine would be a very strong gesture for all of humanity.”
“There is a consensus in Ukraine, not just among Catholics but also among Orthodox and even non-believers, that Pope Francis is the most important moral authority in the world today,” Shevchuk said.
“The people say that if the pope comes to Ukraine the war will end. They see the gesture of a papal visit as one of a messenger of peace.”
Francis has proven to be fearless if he believes a visit might help bring peace: In 2015, he visited the Central African Republic while there was an ongoing civil war, and later this year he is scheduled to visit South Sudan, where a ceasefire in its civil war is considered fragile at best.
This article has been updated with the Vatican’s acknowledgement of the receipt of Klitshko’s letter.