ROME – As the pontiff’s personal peace envoy for Ukraine is working towards a trip to Moscow, a high-ranking official in the Russian Orthodox Church visited Rome this week and met both Pope Francis and top Vatican diplomats.
On Thursday, the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow’s Department for External Church Relations announced that Metropolitan Anthony Sevryuk of Volokolamsk was making an official visit to Rome “with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus.”
As head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department, Sevryuk is the second-highest ranking official in the Russian Orthodox Church and is widely believed to reflect the attitude and approach of Patriarch Kirill, including his support of the war in Ukraine.
Sevryuk’s visit to Rome comes amid ongoing negotiations to organize a second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, and while discussions are also underway to arrange the visit of pope’s personal peace envoy for the Ukraine war, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, to Moscow.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill held a historic first-ever meeting in Havana in 2016 and were scheduled to meet again last summer in Jerusalem. That visit was cancelled by the Vatican amid tensions over Kirill’s support of Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine and his defense of the war on religious grounds.
A brief conversation was held between the pope and Sevryuk last September while the pair were in Kazakhstan for a high-profile interfaith summit, during which Sevryuk said a second meeting between Francis and Kirill was still on the table, but they had to find the right time and circumstances.
After his arrival in Rome June 15, Sevryuk held a meeting with the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
The Vatican offered no statement on the meeting. The Moscow patriarchate said the two discussed “a number of issues on the current agenda of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church,” but offered no further details.
On the same day, Sevryuk also met with representatives of the Community of Sant’Egidio, one of the so-called “new movements” in the Catholic Church, which is dedicated to social justice and global conflict negotiations. Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), is a member of Sant’Egidio.
Widely considered by many to be a frontrunning papabile, meaning a leading contender to be elected pope in the next conclave, Zuppi while a young priest played a key role in negotiating the 1992 Mozambique peace accords through Sant’Egidio, bringing an end to the 17-year bloody civil war in Mozambique.
Zuppi recently concluded a June 5-6 visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top state and religious officials to listen to their proposals for peace.
During Sevryuk’s visit to the headquarters of Sant’Egidio, located in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, he met with the community’s founder, Italian politician and former minister Andrea Riccardi, as well as the community’s vice president, Adriano Roccucci, to discuss “a number of issues of mutual interest.”
On June 16, Sevryuk went to the Vatican for a meeting with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
According to the Moscow Patriarchate, Sevryuk greeted Parolin on Kirill’s behalf and in turn, Parolin “shared his memories of the meeting with the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church during his visit to Russia.”
In 2017, Parolin became the Vatican’s first Secretary of State in 19 years to visit Moscow.
During what the Moscow Patriarchate described as “a long conversation” between the two officials that took place “in a warm atmosphere,” the pair discussed “a wide range of topical issues of bilateral relations,” though no other details were provided.
On Friday afternoon Sevryuk met Pope Francis, who earlier that morning had been discharged from Rome’s Gemelli Hospital after having undergone surgery for an abdominal hernia last week.
According to the Moscow Patriarchate, Sevryuk conveyed “greetings and wishes for a speedy recovery” on Kirill’s behalf, and the two exchanged “memorable gifts.”
The two exchanged a brief greeting during a visit Sevryuk made to Rome in May, during which he attended the pontiff’s weekly Wednesday general audience.
The Vatican has yet to issue a statement on any of this week’s meetings between Sevryuk, the pope, and top Holy See diplomats. One likely agenda item, however, is a visit of Zuppi to Moscow as part of his papally-endorsed peace mission.
After his return from Kyiv earlier this month, Zuppi described the Vatican’s objective for the mission as “not a mediation,” but rather “expressing interest, closeness, listening so that the conflict can find paths to peace.”
“The rest are expectations or speculations that some have,” he said, speaking to journalists attending a June 7 book presentation.
Zuppi’s effort to distance the Vatican from a “mediator” role may have been an attempt to defuse Ukrainian sensitivities. During a May visit to Rome that included a meeting with Pope Francis, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pointedly ruled out a mediation role for the Vatican in comments to Italian television.
No details in terms of timing, duration, or agenda for Zuppi’s expected visit to Moscow have yet been released, and Zuppi himself has been careful to offer any concrete information, however, he has confirmed that plans to travel to Russia are in the works.
Speaking to journalists on the margins of a June 13 book presentation in Rome, Zuppi said “The mission will continue as foreseen. We have to clarify some details, but the next stage of the visit is Moscow.”