ROME – An Italian newspaper reported Tuesday morning that Pope Francis’s personal envoy for the conflict in Ukraine, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, will depart today for Beijing, where he is expected to meet Premier Li Qiang, considered China’s second most important official after President Xi Jinping.
Zuppi’s trip to Beijing has been widely anticipated, coming after similar missions to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, D.C., in June and July. According to the report in the widely read Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the trip has been prepared in consultation with both the Italian government and Washington.
The Vatican did not immediately respond to a Crux request for comment.
Zuppi, 67, is president of the powerful Italian bishops’ conference. Last May, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had appointed Zuppi as his personal envoy to promote peace efforts in Ukraine.
Yesterday, Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, essentially endorsed Zuppi’s mission.
“We support all initiatives of peace, because in the end it’s a just peace which will guarantee the independence and liberty of Ukraine,” Tajani said.
“I said this on the occasion of my visit last week to Beijing: We look with favor in the mission of Cardinal Zuppi desired by Pope Francis, because it’s a mission of peace,” Tajani said. “We’re for peace, and we want peace to be constructed.”
Tajani was speaking in the context of an international conference in Berlin hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a new movement in the Catholic Church dedicated to conflict resolution and ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue to which Zuppi also belongs.
Should Zuppi indeed be in China tomorrow, his visit will come in the wake of a senior official in the Ukraine government rejecting any mediating role for the Vatican over irritation with recent remarks by Pope Francis praising “Great Mother Russia.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, called Pope Francis “pro-Russian” and “not credible” due his praise of Russian culture, delivered in a late August video call with Russian Catholic youth.
Zuppi appeared to allude to the complexities of his efforts yesterday in comments in Berlin when he was asked by reporters about his efforts to promote peace in Ukraine.
“It must be a peace chosen by the Ukrainians,” he said, “with the guarantee, the commitment, the efforts of all. Thus, China’s [role] is clearly among the elements perhaps most important.”
The paths of peace, Zuppi said, are sometimes “unpredictable and need the commitment and involvement of everyone and a great alliance for peace to push in the same direction.”
In response to suggestions that, to date, diplomatic efforts have failed, Zuppi argued that it’s still worth the effort.
“If you don’t try anything, you’ll never fail, but you’ll never get anything done,” he said. “It’s always better to try.”
Peace, he said, “must come, it must come soon, as soon as possible.”
Short of a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, Zuppi’s mission has also focused on more short-term humanitarian efforts, such as negotiating the return of children removed from eastern Ukraine by Russian forces and also brokering a resumption of the deal allowing shipments of grain which Russia abandoned in July.