ROME – Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis’s personal peace envoy for the war in Ukraine, has condemned the growing number of weapons reaching Europe at a time when numerous countries are providing ongoing defense support to the Ukrainian military.

Zuppi, who serves as Archbishop of Bologna and president of the powerful Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), also voiced concern over the national push for euthanasia, calling for more investment in palliative care, and gave a shout-out to Italy’s internal “Synodal Path” process of ecclesial reform.

Speaking on the opening day of the March 18-20 spring session for CEI’s Permanent Episcopal Council, Zuppi said the various wars raging throughout the world indicate “the struggle of being brothers, inhabitants of the common home.”

“We also see the consequences of ‘non-choices’, of guilty postponements, of missed opportunities,” he said, insisting that war is not the only solution to conflict.

He congratulated Pope Francis on the eleventh anniversary of his election to the papacy, which took place March 13, 2013, noting that the call for peace has been a frequent refrain of Francis throughout his years in office.

“In this time of conflicts, of divisions, of nationalist sentiments, of hatred, of contrasts, the Church’s service for unity shines like a light of hope,” he said, saying both individuals and communities must be “artisans of peace, weavers of union in every context.”

Europe, Zuppi said, has been living through “a very long Good Friday,” in which darkness envelopes the earth and hope seems to disappear.

“History requires finding a new framework, a different paradigm, involving the international community to find a just and secure peace together with the parties involved,” he said, calling on European states and institutions, including the European Union itself, to “rediscover their original vocation, basing international relations on cooperation.”

Though he did not mention the Ukraine war specifically, Zuppi in calling for peace said that as a church, “We cannot resign ourselves to an uncontrolled increase in weapons, much less to war as a path to peace.”

Zuppi noted that Italy’s constitution states that the country “rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes,” saying this must also be Europe’s attitude as a whole.

He stressed the importance of building fraternity, saying, “this must be our incessant intercession, the commitment of many artisans of peace who we hope will inspire the architects who build a just and secure peace.”

Zuppi’s words come amid fresh tension between the Vatican and Ukraine over the latter’s ongoing war with Russia, after Pope Francis in a recent interview suggested that Ukraine raise a “white flag” and open to negotiations in order to stop the bloodshed.

Pope Francis’s words were met with fierce civil and ecclesial backlash, with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba insisting that the only flag Ukraine will ever fly is “blue and yellow.”

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Last summer the pope, who in the past has questioned the morality of arming Ukraine, tapped Zuppi as his personal peace envoy to Ukraine. In that capacity, Zuppi made visits to Kyiv, Moscow, Washington DC and Beijing, primarily offering assistance on the humanitarian front and in securing the return of Ukrainian children deported to Russia.

Zuppi in his speech referred to the upcoming EU elections, slated for June, and quoted a statement from the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of theEuropean Union (COMECE), saying, “The European project of a Europe united in diversity, strong, democratic, free, peaceful, prosperous and just is a project we share and for which we feel ownership.”

“We are all called to express this also by casting our votes and choosing responsibly the Members of the European Parliament who will represent our values and work for the common good in the next European Parliament,” he said.

Speaking of Italy’s national synodal reform process, launched at the pope’s request and set to culminate in 2025, after the close of Pope Francis’s Synod of Bishops on Synodality this October, Zuppi lamented an ongoing decline in Mass attendance and participation in parish life.

Various aspects of ecclesial life must be evaluated, he said, including the role of the poor inside the Church, dialogue with culture, ecumenical and interfaith relations, engagement with the worlds of economics, politics, professionals, as well as the importance of consecrated life.

“It is time to translate listening into clear, far-sighted choices of government that allow our path to have an effective impact and a co-responsibility that permeates the Church at various levels,” he said, saying it is the Church’s task to be a light in a world that often seems bleak and dark.

Zuppi said that debate about the Church and its positions “doesn’t scare us,” but rather, the Church must question itself on its role and mission “in the face of the complex and uncertain future of our world, and to do it in dialogue, among many Christians, in a popular way, as has happened, and not in digital, sterile, polarized and convenient controversies.”

He alluded to what Pope Francis has often called an unhealthy “backward-looking” attitude that is nostalgic for the past and for previous ways of doing things.

“Looking to the past is an easy temptation as we age, perhaps easy in an elderly country like Italy or in a Church where quite a few people are advanced in years,” he said, but insisted that “continuously looking nostalgically at the past is an expression of ecclesial senility.”

This desire to look backward, “is the temptation of nostalgia for a presumed golden age, the one before the Council for some, after Vatican II for others,” he said, referring to debates over the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

However, in the Church, he said, “there is never a mythical golden age. Believers cannot look to the past and complain about the present of the Church or of the country.”

“The Church comes from a long history, in some ways marked by it but – rooted in the present – it looks to the future with hope,” Zuppi said, saying, “The Church can and must be, by living this way, a sign of hope in Italian society.”

To this end, he called “the stability of the country’s system” into question, especially in regards to Italy’s ongoing social and economic crisis, its so-called “demographic winter,” and a lack of basic services.

“An institutional framework that can promote unitary development, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and social cohesion, does not fail,” he said, and assured of the Church’s continual vigilance in this area.

Zuppi also stressed the need to give more attention to young people, ensuing they have a future with opportunities, and to the elderly, who are often isolated and abandoned.

New services must be made available for the elderly and their families, he said, saying one of these must be a new welfare system capable of supporting Italy’s growing elderly population, “especially those who are not self-sufficient.”

He also called for greater investment in palliative care, saying every person who suffers, either from a chronic condition or from an end-of-life ailment, “must always be accompanied by care, pharmacological and human closeness, which can alleviate their physical and internal pain.”

“Palliative care, governed by a good law but still disregarded, must be increased and made available to all without any discretionary approach on a regional basis, because it represents a concrete way of ensuring dignity until the end as well as a high expression of love of neighbor,” he said.

If fully applied, the advance treatment provision in Italian law, he said, “is a further guarantee of dignity and of alliance to protect the person in their suffering and fragility.”

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