After much speculation, Pope Francis confirmed this Saturday that he has commissioned the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to carry out a peace mission to help “reduce tensions in the conflict in Ukraine.”
In this way, the mysterious secret “mission” that the Pope had advanced during his return from his trip to Budapest at the end of April is cleared up. “There is a mission in progress but it is not public. When it is, I will reveal it,” the Pontiff said then. This week, the blog the seismographspecialized in Vatican information, had published that Francis wanted to send two envoys to Kyiv and Moscow to discuss a hypothetical truce, one of whom was Cardinal Zuppi, also Archbishop of Bologna.
In a brief statement, the spokesman for the Holy See, Matteo Bruni, has only reported that Francis has asked the Italian cardinal to carry out this mission, according to the Vatican Secretariat of State, “with the hope, never abandoned by the Holy Father , that it can initiate peace processes”. “The terms of this mission and its modality are currently under study,” added Bruni.
This would be the strategy of Francisco that he himself pointed out in the press conference on his return from Hungary, and that even surprised Ukraine. It has not been confirmed that there are two emissaries, only Zuppi, although the Italian media reported that the Cardinal of Bologna should go to Kyiv while Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Department for Oriental Churches, should speak with Vladimir Putin, something that he himself has rejected.
Zuppi already mediated in the civil war in Mozambique
Now, everything indicates that Zuppi will try to meet separately with both the Russian president and the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky. It is not the first time that Zuppi has been part of a mediation process. He already did it, as a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, in the civil war in Mozambique in 1990. In 2017 he was also present at the act of handing over the weapons of the terrorist group ETA in the French city of Bayonne.
Zelensky was in the Vatican last week for his first audience with Jorge Mario Bergoglio since the start of the war. At the time, the official Vatican statement made no reference to this mission by Zuppi, but Zelensky did not seem enthusiastic about a role for the pontiff as a mediator. “With all due respect to his Holiness, we don’t need mediators, just peace. Putin only kills. We do not need a mediation with him, ”he said on Italian television. In his social networks, the president assured that in his meeting he asked the Pope to join his peace plan and condemn Russian crimes in his country.
From the beginning of the conflict, the Vatican wanted to present itself as a possible mediator, and Francis had already spoken to Zelenski on the phone on several occasions, to no avail. Yes, it has been known that Vatican diplomacy has mediated for the exchange of prisoners and is available to help the thousands of children forcibly deported to Russia to return to Ukraine.