ROME – Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, is on an official visit to Ukraine, where he is meeting top government and religious leaders as a sign of the pope’s closeness to the Ukrainian people amid what he said was Russia’s “aggression” toward the country.

“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 against Ukraine,” Gallagher told journalists during a press conference following a May 20 meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

The meeting took place as part of a wider visit to Ukraine during which Gallagher has held meetings with top religious and civil leaders, has met with refugees and those displaced by the war, and has visited towns that have been especially impacted by the violence, including Bucha, where alleged war crimes were committed.

In his remarks after Friday’s meeting with Kuleba, Gallagher said Pope Francis and his top collaborators “suffer greatly from the many deaths, violence of all sorts, the devastation of cities and infrastructure, the separation of so many families, and the millions of displaced people and refugees.”

“Added to this is the awareness of what we may refer to as the ‘limitation’ of our human attempts to find immediate ways to end this senseless conflict,” he said, but insisted that faith in both God and humanity “compels us to persevere in the pursuit of peace through prayer, words, and deeds and not to succumb easily to the enormous challenges.”

Gallagher’s visit comes almost three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a violent conflict which so far has forced millions to flee from their homes, either as refugees living abroad, or who are internally displaced.

Despite the outbreak of the war, Gallagher said his visit was being planned for some time but was delayed due to COVID-19 and the unpredictable situation on the ground once fighting began this spring.

Pope Francis has been invited to visit Ukraine by both the country’s bishops and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has previously expressed his openness to making the trip, but close aides, including Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, have said a papal visit would only happen if there were a genuine desire for peace and negotiation on either side.

Gallagher in his remarks said his visit is a continuation of the pope’s “special attention” for Ukraine, which was apparent in his decision to send two cardinals – papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development – to meet with refugees on Ukraine’s borders at the beginning of the conflict.

Meetings with government officials, religious leaders, and those directly impacted by the war “enables me to touch the wounds of the Ukrainian people and hear their passionate plea for peace,” he said.

He reiterated the Holy See’s willingness to assist in the negotiation process, which he called “the just route to a fair and permanent resolution.”

Gallagher closed by extending his gratitude to the members and institutions of the Greek and Roman Catholic churches in Ukraine for their work with refugees and those in need.

He voiced hope that they would be able to find “the support they so desperately need and that the combined efforts of the entire world will soon put an end to destruction and death.”

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