Saturday, July 22, 2023

Ukraine peace envoy hands Biden a letter from Pope denouncing ‘suffering’ of war

Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis’s personal peace envoy for the war in Ukraine, has closed a two-day visit to Washington DC Wednesday, capping a whirlwind round of high-level civil and ecclesial meetings.

Cardinal Zuppi was in Washington DC from July 17-19 along with an unnamed representative of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to “continue the mission entrusted to him by Pope Francis and, in this context, to meet with the President of the United States, Joseph Biden,” according to a July 19 Vatican statement.

It marked the third stage in Zuppi’s mission as the Pope’s special envoy on Ukraine, following a visit to Kyiv in early June, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top-level church and government leaders, and to Moscow in late June, where he members of Russia’s foreign ministry as well as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, but did not meet with President Vladimir Putin.

After his arrival at the Vatican’s apostolic nunciature, its embassy, Monday evening, Zuppi met with Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the church’s mission to the US Military Services and is the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

During the conversation, the two exchanged reflections on the war in Ukraine and “on the initiatives of the Holy See in support of victims and of peace,” the Vatican said.

On Tuesday morning, the Vatican delegation, including Zuppi, the Vatican’s nuncio to the US, Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, and Monsignor Séamus Patrick Horgan, First Council of the apostolic nunciature, traveled to the Rayburn House Office Building, where they met with members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) of the United States government.

The Vatican representatives spoke to commission members about “the nature and development of the mission entrusted to them by the Pope,” and discussion focused on “the ways in which it could be made more effective,” according to the Vatican statement.

Later that afternoon, Zuppi and the Vatican delegation held their meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House for a conversation that lasted over an hour.

According to a previous White House statement on the meeting, Zuppi discussed the Vatican’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine as well as the return of Ukrainian children forcibly deported to Russia.

While the Vatican said the meeting lasted over an hour, White House journalists said it lasted closer to two hours.

The White House statement also said that Biden welcomed Pope Francis’s decision to name a US archbishop a cardinal, which was likely a reference to the pope’s decision to give a red hat to Archbishop Robert Prevost, a Chicago native who leads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops and who will become a cardinal in the Pope’s September 30 consistory.

In their own statement, the Vatican said Zuppi gave Biden a letter from Pope Francis which highlighted the Pontiff’s “pain for the suffering caused by the war.”

Described as unfolding in a “climate of great cordiality and mutual listening,” the meeting, the Vatican said, began shortly after 5pm local time Tuesday.

During the conversation, “full willingness to support initiatives of a humanitarian nature was ensured, especially for children and the most fragile people, to both respond to this urgency and to promote paths of peace,” the Vatican said.

On Wednesday morning Zuppi and the rest of the Vatican delegation participated in the Senate Prayer Breakfast at the headquarters of the US Congress, where Zuppi offered attendees an update on the various steps taken in his peace mission so far.

“In the course of the meeting, appreciation was expressed for the Holy See’s efforts and the responsibility of everyone to commit to peace was underlined,” the Vatican said.

Neither the Vatican statement on Zuppi’s visit nor the White House statement on his meeting with Biden made any mention of the United States’s decision to arm Ukraine, including its controversial decision to provide the Ukrainian military with cluster munitions, and the pope’s skepticism over providing military aid as a strategy for peace.

While Biden has defended the decision to send cluster munitions on grounds that Ukraine is running low on ammunition, Pope Francis has urged countries to commit to the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their use.

The Holy See is one of over 100 signatories to the convention. Neither the United States nor Russia, which has threatened to use its own cluster munitions should Ukraine deploy them, have signed it.

Following his visits to Ukraine, Russia, and the United States, expectations are high that Zuppi as part of his peace mission will now also visit China.

In a recent interview, Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin hinted that a trip to China was possible, saying that in the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts to promote peace, “We don’t want to exclude anyone.”