Pope Francis, Ukrainian president speak on phone

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ROME – As rumors continue to circulate about a possible visit by Pope Francis to Kyiv in September, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy revealed on Friday that he had spoken on the phone with the leader of the Catholic Church.

“I thanked Pope Francis for praying for Ukraine during a talk with him,” Zelenskyy wrote on Instagram. “I spoke about Russia’s aggression and the terrible crimes against our state.”

“We need the support of the world’s spiritual leaders, who should convey to the world the truth about the horrors that the aggressor country is committing in our land. It is very important for us.”

Shortly thereafter, in a separate tweet, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, reiterated the news of the telephone conversation, adding that “Ukrainian state and society will be happy to greet the Holy Father,” expressing hopes for a visit by Pope Francis to Kyiv.

Yurash was welcomed by the pontiff last week.

Pope Francis shakes hand with Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, during a private audience at the Vatican April 7, 2022. After meeting with Pope Francis Aug. 6, Yurash said the pope planned on visiting the war-torn country before his visit to Kazakhstan in September. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters)

The Vatican’s press office did not confirm the call. However, Vatican News, the official news outlet of the Holy See, published an article on the telephone exchange.

The ambassador told Crux that the two leaders spoke about a possible papal visit to Ukraine because this is “a very important subject for Ukraine. It was impossible to omit this topic.”

However, Yurash added, “there is no positive final response.”

This was the third conversation between the pope and the Ukrainian president. The first came Feb. 26, two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the country; the second happened on March 22, minutes before Zelenskyy addressed the Italian Parliament.

During their first conversation, the pope expressed “his deepest sorrow for the tragic events that are taking place in the country.”

Shortly afterward, Zelenskyy said on social media that he had “thanked the Pope for praying for peace in Ukraine and for a truce. The Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness.”

That conversation took place a day after the pope made a surprise visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See to relay his concern over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Moscow’s ambassador, in an unprecedented departure from diplomatic protocol. 

Back in March, as he addressed the Italian senate, Zelenskyy 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 defends 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.“

A possible papal visit to Ukraine has been rumored since before the war began, presumably for this year, but due to the invasion, it was indefinitely postponed. However, in recent weeks there have been several voices on both sides hinting at a trip in September.

Though unconfirmed officially, several observers believe it could actually happen as an addition to Francis’s Sept. 13-15 trip to Kazakhstan, where he will take part in an interreligious summit that will include participants such as Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The pope and the head of the Moscow patriarchate were also supposed to meet in June, but the Vatican called it off due to the war.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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