Vatican’s top diplomat says papal trip to Kyiv is possible

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ROME – Pope Francis’s top diplomat says a papal trip to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, during the ongoing Russian invasion, is “not prohibited.” 

Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, was asked about the “appropriateness” of Francis traveling to Kyiv, and the prelate said that the conditions needed to make the trip possible “seem to be there.”

“On the Ukrainian side we have always been given ample assurance that there would be no dangers and reference is made to trips made by other leaders and which are still being made,” the prelate told reporters on the sidelines of an event at Vatican Radio. “It seems to me that the president of the European Parliament went, the president of the Commission will go.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, traveled to Kyiv on Friday.

Parolin’s words came hours after meeting with Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, who formally presented his credentials to Pope Francis on Thursday. On Monday, the ambassador told Crux that he believes the safety of the pope during an eventual trip would be guaranteed.

Parolin said he believes “that in the end a trip to Kyiv is not prohibitive; it can be done; we evaluate whether it can contribute to the end of the war.” 

However, what is currently being evaluated are the “consequences,” including the impact such a visit could have for relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, a situation that Parolin considers “delicate.” 

“Certainly, the pope would not go to take a position either in favor of one or the other,” he said. “But this aspect will also have to be taken into account in the overall consideration of the possibility of making the trip or not.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, celebrates an evening Mass for peace in Ukraine in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 16, 2022. The Mass was attended by many ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, including Andrii Yurash, Ukrainian ambassador, and Aleksandr Avdeyev, the Russian ambassador. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

On the question of ecumenical dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, Parolin mentioned that the Holy See is currently working on a second personal meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill.

The patriarch has voiced his support for the war and defended Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The pope and the patriarch met for the first time in 2016 at Cuba’s International Airport, and the two spoke through videolink in March to discuss the war.

“From what I understand, the preparations continue,” he said, explaining that the search at the moment “is for neutral ground. This is the condition. But nothing is decided.” One possible neutral ground could be Lebanon, a country local authorities claim Francis will visit in June, though the Holy See has not confirmed the trip.

Speaking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Parolin said that everything must be done to avoid an escalation.

“The armed response must always be proportional to the aggression, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us. If not, it can lead to an enlargement of the conflict that can have disastrous and deadly consequences,” the cardinal said.

Parolin also acknowledged the Russian army carried out a “massacre” in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, which was recently liberated by the Ukrainians.

“That they would rage in that way against the civilian population is inexplicable,” he said. “I really believe, as has been pointed out by many, that these episodes mark a turning point in this war. And I hope that they mark it in a positive way: That is, that they make everyone reflect on the need to put an end to the fighting as soon as possible and not harden positions as some fear.”

Parolin also said that even though there are no “particular initiatives” at the moment, the offer made by the Holy See “some time ago for a mediation activity or any other form of intervention, can, on the one hand, facilitate the ceasefire and, on the other, start negotiations.”

“Now, we are considering if there are other ways to translate this availability into more concrete initiatives, also because this offer must find the willingness of both parties,” he said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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