Ukrainian president says Pope called him, saying ‘military defends civilians’


ROME – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that he received a phone call from Pope Francis on Tuesday.

“[I] told His Holiness about the difficult humanitarian situation and the blocking of rescue corridors by Russian troops,” the president tweeted. “The mediating role of the Holy See in ending human suffering would be appreciated. Thanked for the prayers for Ukraine and peace.”

Minutes later, as he addressed the Italian senate, he reportedly quoted Pope Francis’s “very important words,” claiming the Catholic leader said: “I understand that you want peace, I understand that you want to defend yourselves, I understand that the military defend civilians, and that civilians defend their own homeland.”

Zelenskyy said his response to the pontiff’s words were: “Our people have become the army, when they have seen the evil that the enemy brings with him, how much devastation he leaves behind him, and how much blood he wants to see spilled. “

The Vatican has yet to confirm – or deny – that the conversation took place.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See also went to Twitter to speak about the conversation between his boss and Francis, claiming the pope said he was “praying and doing everything possible to end the war.”

According to the ambassador, Zelenskyy reiterated his invitation for Francis to visit Ukraine, saying that he is “the most awaited guest in Ukraine.” Last week, a letter by the mayor of Kyiv inviting the pontiff to the city was leaked to the media.

This is the second time the two leaders have spoken on the phone since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24. The Feb. 26 telephone conversation was also announced by the Ukrainian’s Vatican embassy via Twitter, saying “The Holy Father expressed his deepest sorrow for the tragic events that are taking place in our country.”

Moments later, Zelenskyy — who has remained in the capital city of Kyiv vowing to fight for the country — took to Twitter to confirm the call. Eventually, so did the Vatican’s press office.

The first call came a day after the pontiff made the unprecedented decision to leave the Vatican in a white utilitarian car to visit the Russian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

During the meeting with Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev, the pope expressed his “concern over the war,” according to a statement by Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni at the time.

Since the Russian invasion began, the Holy See has pleaded for “room for negotiation.” On Feb. 25, the pope also called the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych. In a statement, the archbishop said the pope told him “I will do everything I can” to help the situation.

Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis’s top diplomat, has insisted that the Vatican is willing to help mediate between the Kremlin and Ukraine to put an end to the war. However, he has claimed that though Russia has “taken note” of this offer, they have yet to express willingness to take it up.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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