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Secret ‘Mission’ for Peace in Ukraine May Show Limits of Pope’s Influence

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ROME — The secret mission revealed days ago by Pope Francis to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine is so secret that Russia and Ukraine claim to know nothing about it.

The Kremlin said Tuesday it did not know what the Pope was talking about. “Ukraine does not know it,” said the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See Andriy Yurashadded in an interview on Wednesday that he had scheduled a meeting with the pope’s foreign minister for Thursday. “I always ask him what it is.”

“As far as I know, they were aware of the peace plan,” Pietro Parolin, the Pope’s deputy commander-in-chief and chief diplomat, told reporters late Wednesday night, adding that the government’s denial was “surprising.” It is.” myself. “

The apparent embarrassment of the warring parties, and confusion over the existence of the plan, has already been chastised in countries such as Cuba, South Sudan, and Myanmar, and the Pope’s influence as a geopolitical player and peacemaker extends to Ukraine. It contributed to the feeling that I was not good enough.

Among Ukrainian supporters, Francis’ eagerness to play a constructive role has led him to criticize people like Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, who are trying to give religious legitimacy to the invasion. I worry that I am reducing myself to my minions. .

During his visit to Budapest last weekend, Francis personally met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often defended Russia, and Metropolitan Hilarion, the highest prelate of Hungary’s Russian Orthodox Church. On his flight home, Francis was asked by a journalist if he thought the two men could speed up the peace process or facilitate talks between Francis and Putin.

Francis responded with a cryptic mention of “an ongoing mission, but not yet published” to bring peace, adding, “We will talk about it when it is published.”

When asked about the comments, the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher said it could not provide information at this time because “the matter is under consideration” but that it “will provide it in the near future.”

But what is really little known about the effort has prompted either denial, puzzlement, or deep skepticism from informed observers.

Lucio Caracciolo, editor of Rimes, Italy’s leading foreign affairs magazine, said: “The pope is not thought. He said in December held an event At the Italian Embassy at the Vatican featuring Cardinal Parolin,european peace conference” to end the war.

“How can a Catholic pope be an intermediary in an orthodox environment?” Regarding Francis, Caracciolo added that the church “has nothing to do with this kind of war.”

Still, the Vatican is actively trying to get both sides involved, working to release prisoners and promising Ukrainians to do everything it can to return children abducted to Russia. One of the officials told Italian media on Wednesday of a seven-point plan for the peace process that would include bringing together key stakeholders around a Vatican-brokered table.

Ukrainian ambassador Yurash has consistently expressed a desire for the Vatican to be involved in eventual peace talks by asking officials to keep “bridges” and “lines” with Russia open. Said I need to keep

But he points out that the Kremlin has repeatedly blocked offers to meet with Vatican President Putin, and Francis has repeatedly said this is a prerequisite for a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Yurash argued that the Russian Orthodox Church seeks “legitimateness” through its relationship with the Vatican for “the obvious purpose of Russian propaganda.”

“I do not fully understand why the Holy See seeks to maintain a very special relationship with the Russian Church and the Russian state,” he said, adding that the people of Ukraine, already suffering from the invasion, “understand.” I can’t,” he added. ” Pope Positioning.

Francis called Mr. Zelensky on the first day of the war, and then asked Alexander Avdeev, the Holy See’s ambassador to Russia, to make what he called a “clear gesture” of his openness to speaking. I repeatedly remembered my visit.

On the flight home from Budapest, he called Mr. Avdeev “a great man, a mediocre man, a serious, educated, well-rounded man.”

Avdeyev did not respond to a request for comment.

Francis’ openness to dialogue, especially in the early years of the war, aroused criticism for his assumptions of neutrality, which critics viewed as morally questionable in the face of Russia’s apparent aggression.

The Pope’s early resistance to labeling Russia as an aggressor eventually led to criticism from Ukraine, with historians citing Pope Pius XII, who was essentially silent about Hitler’s Holocaust. He warned that he was in danger of ending up on the wrong side of history.

In May 2022, in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Francis wondered if “NATO barking at Russia’s doors” had “enhanced” the Kremlin’s anger that led to the invasion. I was.

But in the same interview, he appeared to undermine his position as a good-faith broker when he pointed to Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church. Western and Eastern churches date as far back as 1054, saying that “the Patriarch cannot transform into Putin’s altar boy”.

After finally denouncing Russia as an aggressor, Francis has since compared Russia’s actions to genocide under Stalin and has consistently supported the Ukrainians and drawn attention to their plight. rice field.

But Caracholo said the pope’s differing views could be charitably characterized as a “puzzle” that caused confusion and effectively disqualified the pope as a potential interlocutor. rice field.

After meeting with players close to the Russian side in Budapest, he said it was “unwise” to reveal the effort, adding: “If it’s a secret, we have to keep it secret.” .

Since becoming Pope, Francis has thrown himself into real conflicts in hopes of making real, not just moral, impact on the world stage. However, his efforts rarely bore fruit after he succeeded in making a historic diplomatic breakthrough between Cuba and the United States in 2015.

Cuba, to which he sent envoys to secure the release of political prisoners, has not released them. In 2019, he knelt in the Vatican, kissed the feet of warring South Sudan’s leaders, and begged them to end their years of civil war. accused of returning to violence.

Flavio Lotti, who organizes the annual peace march from Perugia to Assisi, said the pope’s strong voice on issues of peace, disarmament and migrant assistance “makes Francis unique, but also makes him stronger.” It’s nothing,” he said.

Still, Mr. Lotti said Francisco “has been an important ‘lighthouse’ for anyone trying to put real people’s situations at the center of geopolitical issues.” It is in trials. “

Even Francis’ supporters fear that if none of his plans come to fruition and he is not supported, he risks being seen as geopolitically powerless, but the pope is back in the spotlight. It’s clear by now that it’s on target. Yurash said he was inundated with calls from fellow Vatican ambassadors, including the United States, asking what he knew.

His phone rang when the ambassador showed a photo of him in his office with Francisco and Cardinal Parolin, pointing out the stuffed animal shredded in the Russian attack. .

“I’m the Polish ambassador,” he excused himself. “Everyone is calling me.”

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