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Vatican Diplomacy Undermined in Ukraine and Elsewhere

On the evening of May 13th, Volodymyr Zelensky took part in a special edition of the television program Porta a Porta, on the Italian public channel RAI 1. He declared it bluntly: “With all due respect to His Holiness, we don’t need mediators, we need a just peace.”

“We invite the Pope, like other leaders, to commit to a just peace, but first we must do everything else. We cannot mediate with Putin, no country in the world can do that. I invited Pope Francis to go to Ukraine to support in prayer all Ukrainians who suffer from Russian terror and who fight against the evil that has happened on Ukrainian soil.”

Two facts marked this meeting between Francis and the Ukrainian President, on Saturday, May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. First, Giuseppe Nardi on katholisches.info noted on May 15 that the Pope had slipped his pectoral cross into his ceinture:

“Francis had placed his pectoral cross into his ceinture during the meeting. Because Zelensky is Jewish? Such concealment of the pectoral cross has been used by Francis in the past, as a deliberate gesture, when meeting members of other religions (Jews and Muslims).”

On the other hand, Yves Daoudal pointed out that Volodymyr Zelensky had offered Francis an icon on which the head of Christ was erased. The work is due to a certain Oleksiy Revika who “scribbled a very ugly icon of the Mother of God of Iveron, leaving the place of Christ empty.” The author titled it Loss, and he explained:

“This work is about the loss of Ukrainian children in the war of aggression that Russia unleashed against Ukraine.” And the French journalist concludes: “It is terribly significant that there is now an icon in the Vatican where Christ is a black space.”

In La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana of May 17, Stefano Fontana asserts that the Pope’s peace mediation was a failed and mismanaged operation: “The refusal of Vatican mediation clearly revealed the Ukrainian president eager to resolve the issue by force of arms alone, not allowing the other side any chance to set the slightest condition.”

“It is also true that, the grave responsibility of the European states in arming Ukraine without pushing for any peace process emerged as a result… but it cannot be denied that for Vatican diplomacy it was a failure that has severely tarnished its image.”

The Italian journalist puts forward two reasons to explain this obvious failure: “Serious mistakes were made, precisely from the diplomatic point of view. No one would publicly express their willingness to mediate in a conflict without first having secured the acceptance of the parties involved.”

“The third party offering to mediate must already be certain, before publicizing the proposal, that it will be accepted. Acceptance or otherwise must not be a possibility but a prior certainty. If one does not have this certainty, it is better not to offer one’s services, given the damage to the image and influence that a possible ‘No’ would entail.”

“Secondly, if a ‘secret’ diplomatic action is launched, why say so in an interview while it is still in progress? And yet this is what Francis did on his return from Hungary, receiving in return the rejection of the Ukrainian government, which denied that such secret diplomatic activity really existed.”

And to draw this conclusion, in relation to Francis’ disastrous diplomatic silences: “The fact is, however, that the Holy See’s international prestige has declined in recent years and the latest act in this downward path has been Zelensky’s ‘No’. The Church’s silence on the issue of human rights in China and its compromise with Beijing certainly played a role. But also the silence on old and new Latin America communist regimes.”

“In that subcontinent there are governments, such as that of Nicaragua, which have long persecuted even churchmen, or others which accelerate the introduction of laws against life and family, but no cries of alarm have been heard from Rome. Even with regard to Hong Kong and Venezuela, the pope has not intervened.”

“Add to this his various ‘political’ speeches and the Catholic Church’s substantial adherence to politically correct transitions, such as environmental and green, health and the UN goals for 2030, which are certainly biased. All this has dimmed the international role of the Holy See.”

Consequently, Stefano Fontana wonders: “The main question to ask is whether the Church has the task of diplomatic mediation. The Catholic Church has the task of teaching justice and salvation in Christ. It must not, therefore, descend to the levels of the powerful of this earth, posing as one of them and operating according to political criteria, which are not even well used.”

“It may be the case that two nations, especially if of Catholic tradition, ask for mediation, but the Pope must not propose himself as mediator, thus descending to a political and politicizing level.” 

Since the failure of this meeting between Francis and the Ukrainian President, Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, was sent to Kyiv on June 5 and 6, with the objective not to broker a peace agreement between the belligerents, but – more modestly – an “appeasement of tensions in the conflict.”

The Pope’s choice is not due to chance. Cardinal Zuppi has, in fact, long experience as a mediator in international conflicts. His name is associated with the signing of the General Peace Agreement in Rome on October 4, 1992, which ended the civil war in Mozambique. But his mediating role also includes interventions in Rwanda, Algeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These missions have been carried out in the name of the Sant’Egidio Community, of which he is the general ecclesiastical assistant, since the year 2000. This community, at the origin of the interreligious meeting of Assisi for peace of October 27 1986, develops pacifist diplomatic activities throughout the world, under the aegis of its founder, Andrea Riccardi.

Still, on his return from Ukraine, Cardinal Zuppi refused to comment, declaring that he was waiting for the Pope, still hospitalized after his abdominal surgery on June 7, to “get better” to “bring back to him” the fruits of his trip and consider the rest of his mission.

Does the Ukrainian president, who has clearly expressed his demands to Francis, plan to give this mission a follow-up other than simply humanitarian?

On May 13, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was received by Pope Francis. This 40-minute meeting showed all the limits of Vatican diplomacy in its efforts to find a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.


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