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ROME – On Saturday, Pope Francis once again fueled rumors about a possible visit to Ukraine, telling children that Ukrainian officials will come to Rome this week to talk about such a trip.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he couldn’t confirm or deny the visit of government officials to the Holy See, but did welcome a possible papal visit, saying that thus far, he has heard no “rational arguments from the Vatican as to why the visit should not take place.”
“It would be a moment of inspiration and comfort for all of us,” Kuleba told Crux in an exclusive interview.
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He was less optimistic that a papal visit could bring peace.
“Let’s be frank: Many have tried so far, but no one succeeded in forging this peace in the last three months. I don’t think we should subject the visit of the pope to his ability to bring peace with him. But what he can do is bring peace to all those who are fighting for their motherland, who are fighting the aggressor and who have lost loved ones as a result of this war,” he said.
Kuleba, 41, spoke with Crux about the recent visit by the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, to Ukraine; the Holy See’s understanding of the war; and the need for the Vatican to comprehend that the origins of the war are unequivocal: Russia’s “new imperial revanchism.”
What follows are excerpts of Kuleba’s phone conversation with Crux.
Crux: How productive was your meeting with the Holy See’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, when he was in Kyiv?
Kuleba: I think we had a very frank discussion with him, which I appreciate. We were less diplomats in our conversation that one would expect, but I think it is really important to talk with friends, and the Vatican is a friend, openly about all the issues that are boiling on our agenda.
The second thing is that I appreciate the fact that the archbishop paid a full-fledge visit to Ukraine, visiting not only Kyiv, but also the surrounding cities which suffered the most from Russian atrocities, and Lviv. I would dare say that Archbishop Gallagher left Ukraine with a far better understanding of where Ukraine stands and how Ukraine feels.
Do you think Gallagher’s visit might help reshape the Holy See’s understanding of the war or its public position, with, for instance, Pope Francis refusing to publicly condemn Putin and Kirill?
We hope so. One of the takeaways from my meeting with him is that Ukraine and the Holy See have to speak more with each other at all levels, so that we in Ukraine better understand the limitations of what the pope can say and do; and for the Vatican to better understand the origins of this war and what it can actually do to help Ukraine in these circumstances.
I think the only point of difference where Ukraine wants to be better understood by the Holy See are the points of origin of this war and why Russia attacked Ukraine. And of course, I took the opportunity to convey to the high representative of the Holy See the importance of a papal visit to Ukraine.
Pope Francis said on Saturday that this week he will be welcoming the Vatican representatives of the Ukrainian government to discuss a possible papal visit to Ukraine. Can you share with us more about this visit by Ukrainian officials?
As I said, we want to have more communication with the pope personally and with the Holy See as a State and government. We are ready to exchange visits, however I am not in a position at this point to confirm any visit by Ukrainian officials to the Vatican, or any further visits by Vatican officials to Ukraine to take place specifically this week. But we definitely want to talk more with each other, because we share the same principles and the same values. Ukraine has a large Greek Catholic community and also Latin Catholic community. We traditionally embrace the pope; he is a very important figure for Ukrainians, so I am sure that we will reach a common understanding.
We do not have any real reasons against the pope’s visit to Ukraine, nor do we hear any rational arguments from the Vatican as to why the visit should not take place. We are looking forward to receiving the pope in Ukraine, and I believe it would be extremely important not only for Ukrainians, but for Catholics all around the world and all those who recognize the pope as the head of the Catholic Church.
Beyond being a gesture for Catholics, do you think it could help forge peace?
First of all, the visit will bring comfort to all Ukrainians suffering from the aggression, and it would be a strong message of support that the pope stands by his faithful in this war. It would be a moment of inspiration and comfort for all of us.
When it comes to forging peace between Ukraine and Russia, let’s be frank: Many have tried so far, but no one succeeded in forging this peace in the last three months. I don’t think we should subject the visit of the pope to his ability to bring peace with him. But what he can do is bring peace to all those who are fighting for their motherland, who are fighting the aggressor and who have lost loved ones as a result of this war.
In my view, the priest has to stand by the victims and those who are suffering. This is what Christianity teaches: In the struggle between the strong and the weak, God is on the side of the weak.
The Ukrainian government has been very outspoken when disagreeing with what authorities in certain countries, such as Germany and France, have said about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How would you rate the Vatican response to the war?
The future of our people and our country is at stake, so this is not the time to stay silent or to swallow their [Russia’s] message, even if it is coming from France. The only reason for our public opposition to the wrong messages voiced by leaders of other countries, is that we are fighting for our survival, and this gives us the moral right to be strong and outspoken. There is nothing aggressive in our reactions, it is rather about being outspoken even with friends when your own life is at stake.
In this sense, I have to say that if I hear something completely wrong coming from anyone, we will speak out, we will speak out on different levels. I bear responsibility before the people of Ukraine for the effectiveness of our diplomacy. And I cannot compromise this responsibility by trying to be nice with those who misunderstand Ukraine, the origins of this war, or how this war should end.
Just so that our readers don’t misunderstand, how would you describe to them the origins of this war and how it should end?
Russia is driven by a new imperial revanchism to prove to its own people and its elites that Ukraine still belongs to them, that Ukrainian identity doesn’t exist and that Ukraine doesn’t have the right to exist. Russia has been thoroughly planning this large-scale invasion for years. It is absolutely misleading to accuse anyone but Russia for launching this war. Russia was not provoked. It received numerous proposals to resolve the conflict by peaceful means, and still decided to attack. Anyone saying the European Union, NATO, the United States, or anyone else is to blame for this invasion, either misunderstands the origins of this war or deliberately misleads the international community.
Were you surprised when the Orthodox Ukrainian Church in communion with the Moscow patriarchate announced that it was no longer accepting Patriarch Kirill’s leadership?
This recent public decision by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a half measure: On the one hand, it makes some very clear and important points about the personal involvement of Patriarch Kirill in launching and providing an excuse for the aggression and the systematic murder of Ukrainian citizens by Russian armed forces. On the other hand, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church did not break away with the Russian Orthodox, and the legal connection between them remains.
I don’t know if you are aware, but two days ago the Russian army targeted an old wooden church in Donbass, and some weeks before that, several monks were killed as a result of the Russian attacks. Both the monks and the church belonged to the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. If this is not a reason for them to call a spade a spade, and to identify evil in the clearest words, I don’t know what else should happen for them to understand that those who are killing priests and destroying churches have nothing to do with God and act in the interests of the opposite force, which is evil.
Any other message you would like to convey to our readers?
I would like to call on your readers, both in Vatican offices and in their homes all around the world, to pray for Ukrainians and for Ukraine, and to stand by us, because we are the force of good fighting against the force of evil.