ROME – In what could be perceived as a line aimed at Ukrainian authorities, who have insisted that any plan to end their war with Russia be according to their terms, Pope Francis’s peace envoy has stressed that willingness to dialogue is not an act of betrayal.
Speaking at the annual “Meeting” in Rimini, Italy’s highest-profile annual Catholic summit sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna said that “dialogue is not a betrayal, it does not involve an unjust peace.”
“A just and secure peace must be sought, not with weapons but with dialogue,” he said.
Zuppi, a member of the popular Sant’Egidio Community who has had past success in negotiating a 1992 peace agreement in Mozambique, was tapped by Pope Francis as his personal peace envoy for the Ukraine conflict earlier this summer.
So far, his mission has involved visits to Kyiv, Moscow, and Washington D.C. for high-level meetings and conversations aimed at bringing an end to the Russia-Ukraine war, sparked last February when Russia invaded various parts of Ukrainian territory.
He is also expected to visit Beijing as the next stage in the peace mission, and could depart as soon as next month.
Earlier this year Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a May 13 visit to the Vatican where he met with Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary for Relations with States British Archbishop Paul Gallagher during a whirlwind trip to Italy to solicit more military support.
The United States recently made the disputed decision to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs, which they have already used on the battlefield, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that he is also prepared to use the controversial weapon.
During Zelenskyy’s brief visit, it became clear that he and Francis had clashing views as to how the Ukraine-Russia conflict ought to be resolved. Francis has repeatedly called for a ceasefire and questioned the morality of continuing to arm Ukraine, while Zelenskyy has continued to request military aid from the west and insisted that Ukraine’s own plan is the only path to peace.
After his meeting with Pope Francis in May, Zelenskyy appeared on a popular evening television program thanking Pope Francis for repeated willingness to assist in negotiations, but declined Vatican’s offer to mediate, saying, “We do not need mediators, we need a just peace … Putin only kills. We don’t need a mediation with him.”
Ukrainian officials took that stance again during Zuppi’s visit to Kyiv in June, during which he also met with Zelenskyy, with a statement from Zelenskyy’s office saying their conversation focused on humanitarian initiatives as well as ways to collaborate “in the framework of the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula.”
Zelenskyy has spent much of this year seeking international backing for this 10-point peace plan, which includes restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the release of Ukrainian prisoners, a tribunal to try Russian war crimes, and greater Euro-Atlantic security measures, among other things.
He has also pushed G7 leaders to support a global peace summit focusing on the Ukrainian peace plan, either in part or as a whole.
In his remarks at Rimini, Zuppi said that “Peace does not mean betrayal.”
“Peace requires justice, and it requires security,” he said, saying, “There cannot be an unjust peace, because it would be a premise to continue conflicts. It must be a just peace.”
Zuppi insisted that within the Russia-Ukraine war, “there is an aggressor and there is an aggrieved,” and said any peace that is achieved must be “a secure peace. That is, which can allow people to look at the future with hope.”
“Security is always achieved with everyone’s involvement. If you really want peace, prepare peace!” he said, adding that “This is the great commitment which with knowledge and responsibility we must seek.”
Zuppi was critical of Europe’s handling of the Ukraine war in comments to the media on the margins of the Rimini meeting.
Speaking to the Italian news site Sussidiario, he said the European Union “does too little, it must do much more. It must seek in every way to help initiatives for peace, following the invitation of Pope Francis for a creative peace.”
Noting that an agreement was recently reached to resume grain exports in spite of ongoing hostilities, Zuppi argued that “If an agreement on grain was reached, the same can be done for putting an end to hostilities.”
“We cannot ever get used to war. Peace is always possible, but it must be desired and sought at every cost, in just ways and with strong determination,” he said.
To solve the conflict in the long-term, “putting together various actors, involving everyone, is needed,” he said, saying, “we must seek the recovery of the European spirit, being aware of how indispensable this is if we want to guarantee a future of peace to our children.”