The news that the Russian Federation would be willing to accept the mediation of the Holy See in the Ukrainian conflict was first communicated last June 13. It was made public by Alexei Paramonov, director of the first European department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, in declarations to the governmental agency Ria Novosti. But that the situation was more complex than the most optimistic media thought is witnessed to by the fact that, after that opening, for fifteen days there was no more news. What is the Holy See’s diplomacy doing for Ukraine? There are three levels of activity, in various ways three diplomatic channels have been opened, all with the hope of being effective.
The diplomatic channel
The first channel is the diplomatic one. Certainly the statements to Ria Novosi were a remarkable change of direction, a ‘small window’ that Pope Francis had said he was seeking in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on May 3. In summary, Paromonov stated that the Holy See has not only repeatedly declared its readiness to mediate, but that ‘these statements have been confirmed in practice.’ Russia maintains with the Holy See ‘an open and trusting dialogue on a number of issues, primarily related to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine’, he stated. This last joins mediation primarily to the humanitarian aspect, and makes it clear that Russia does not want to change its position one iota. Thus dialogue is complex.
The Holy See realizes this. Diplomatic activity and exchange of information are intense. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Minister for Relations with States, was in Ukraine from May 18 to 21, on a trip that enabled him not only to meet with the leaders of the Ukrainian state, but also to experience the war situation close up, by visiting to the devastated cities of Bucha and Vorzel.
It was no coincidence, therefore, that immediately after the note released by Ria Novosti, Archbishop Gallagher spoke clearly about what is acceptable and what is not in the situation in Ukraine. Thus, on June 14, in the context of a colloquium on migration held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he stated that one must ‘resist the temptation to accept compromises on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.’ Archbishop Gallagher had repeated the same idea from Kiev on May 20, when he said that the Holy See ‘defends the territorial integrity of Ukraine.’
The Pope’s follow-up
Such is the position of the Holy See at the diplomatic level. Then there is the second channel, that of Pope Francis. Pope Francis’ diplomacy seems to work on a parallel track, and engages him personally. When the war broke out, the Pope himself wanted to visit the Russian Federation Embassy, in an unprecedented gesture (heads of state summon ambassadors, not the other way around). It was not matched by a similar initiative towards the Ukrainian Embassy. He then sent Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Pope’s almoner, and Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, to see the situation for themselves, coordinate humanitarian aid and be the Pope’s arm.
Moreover, the Pope did not fail to make known his opinion on the matter. In a conversation with the editors of Jesuit magazines around the world on May 19, Pope Francis had recounted that a ‘not very talkative but very wise’ head of state, with whom he had met in January, had expressed his concern about NATO’s attitude, explaining that ‘they are barking at Russia’s doorstep and do not understand that the Russians are imperial by nature and do not allow any foreign power to come near them.’ The Pope also added that he wanted to ‘avoid reducing complex situation to good guys and bad guys.’
So, what is Pope Francis’ diplomatic key? Perhaps he simply does not have one, because he is looking primarily at humanitarian aid. Pope Francis asked the editors of Jesuit magazines to study geopolitics, for that is their task, but at the same time to remember to highlight the ‘human drama’ of war.
To give the Pope a better understanding of the situation, Father Alexander, an Argentine friend of the Pope, organized a meeting in Santa Marta with two of his friends, Yevhen Yakushev, from Mariupol, and Denys Kolyada, a dialogue consultant with religious organizations, who had brought with him Myroslav Marynovych, a personal friend.
The meeting took place on June 8 and lasted 45 minutes. Marynovych said that ‘we talked about the fact that Russia uses both weapons and false information,’ such that Ukraine, even in the Vatican, was seen mainly through Russian eyes, and that it was unfair to look at those attacked ‘through the prism of the aggressor’s propaganda information.’ Indeed, Marynovych asked the Pope to ‘develop his own Ukrainian policy, one not derived from Russian policy.’
These words need to be read very, very carefully, for they refer more personally to the Pope than to the diplomacy of the Holy See, giving rise to a kind of ‘two-speed diplomacy’ towards Ukraine.
The humanitarian field
Finally, there is the third channel, which is the humanitarian one. We have already mentioned the two cardinals sent by Pope Francis. Then there is the extraordinary engagement launched in the area. On June 22, speaking at the meeting of Works for Aid to the Eastern Churches, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, detailed the commitment of Caritas and Catholic parishes, which are the places where people traditionally go for help.
Ukraine is divided into three zones: the conflict zone, where first aid is provided; the zone bordering the places of fighting and which are the first point of reception of refugees fleeing from both the east and the west (there are 6 million emigrants and 8 million displaced persons); and the relatively calm zone of western Ukraine, from where aid is organized.
A new Vatican coin
The latest initiative of support is a specially minted coin from the Vatican Mint, the proceeds of which will go precisely to finance aid to Ukraine. The first run of 3,000 sold out immediately and 2,000 more are being minted. This shows clearly that not only is attention focussed on Ukraine , but also that there a willingness to do something.
The future will tell us if these three avenues of Vatican diplomacy lead to specific results. The Pope has made it known that he wants to go to Moscow and then to Kiev. However, it would be good if his appeals were first listened to.