ROME – During a meeting with Pope Francis’s special envoy for Ukraine on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden shared his wishes for the pontiff’s “continued ministry and global leadership,” according to a brief White House statement, but the two men did not apparently identify any specific new pathways to peace.
Based on reports from journalists at the White House, the meeting between Biden and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, lasted almost two hours.
According to the White House, Biden and Zuppi discussed the Vatican’s humanitarian initiatives in Ukraine, addressing what the U.S. statement pointedly described as “the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression.”
The two men, according to the statement, also discussed “the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children.”
The White House also said that Biden welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. archbishop as a cardinal. The reference presumably was to Archbishop Robert Prevost, currently prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, who’s a Chicago native and who’s set to become a cardinal in a consistory convened by Pope Francis for Sept. 30.
The Vatican has not yet issued any statement of its own on the encounter. Shortly before the meeting began, French Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s ambassador in the United States, told an Italian media outlet that Zuppi’s mission was “to dialogue, to listen and to be heard,” adding that “the President has always shown great attention regarding the Holy Father.”
This is Zuppi’s third outing as the pope’s special envoy on Ukraine, following visits to Kyiv in early June, when he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and to Moscow in late June, when he did not see President Vladimir Putin but met one of Putin’s political advisors as well as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
The White House statement did not suggest that Zuppi and Biden touched on any of the issues where Francis and Biden have disagreed, including a recent decision by the U.S. administration to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine.
More broadly, Pope Francis has condemned the flow of arms into Ukraine and suggested that various geopolitical interests, not just those of Russia, are fueling the conflict.
Zuppi’s whirlwind diplomatic tour may not yet be over. During a recent event in Rome, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, told journalists that Zuppi could reach out not only to the United States but also to China, insisting that in the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, “We don’t want to exclude anyone.”
L’Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, carried a piece Wednesday suggesting that Zuppi’s aim is to achieve short-term results on the humanitarian front as a means of creating momentum towards a broader peace agreement, defining his mission as “the patient weaving of a tapestry.”