Papa Francesco, last call for Ukraine

With his appeal for the end of the war in Ukraine on October 2, 2022, Pope Francis has drawn a clear line and clarified his position on the war. A probably necessary clarification, since the words and position of Pope Francis have provoked criticism in Ukraine itself.

Andrea Gagliarducci-October 9, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
Pope Francis Ukraine

With his appeal for the end of the war in Ukraine on October 2, 2022, Pope Francis has established a clear line of demarcation and clearly stated his position on the war. A probably necessary clarification, after Pope Francis' words and position statements had led to several criticisms even in Ukraine. 

That of the Pope was a very studied, diplomatic and calibrated text in every word, which tried to highlight the gravity of the situation. We do not know what led the Pope to make that appeal, whether it was the new nuclear minaccia or the situation created after the anniversaries of Russia of Donetsk. Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson and Putin's speech that stirred up the nuclear minefield. 

We know, however, that the words of Pope Francis come at the culmination of a great diplomatic effort of the Holy See, which since the beginning of the conflict has worked ceaselessly behind the quintet. 

The speech of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has decided to speak on the occasion of the Angelus prayer. The appeal for the end of the war in Ukraine was made after the commentary to the Gospel that usually precedes the Angelus prayer. Only on one other occasion was it successful: on September 1, 2013, when the Pope addressed the issue of the war in Syria and launched the day of prayer and prayer for the peace of the following September 7. 

The risk, in making this choice, was to give the Pope's speech a purely political-diplomatic connotation, without any reference to the Vangelo, as in general all the Pope's speeches are. As said, it has succeeded only on one other occasion. It is the sign that the situation for the Pope is tragic. 

In his speech, Pope Francis stressed that "certain actions can never be justified", and said that it is "distressing that the world was denying the geography of Ukraine through names such as Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Izium, Zaporizhzhia and other locations, which have become places of indescribable suffering and pain. And what can we say about the fact that humanity is once again facing atomic minaccia? È assurdo."

In a clear manner, the Pope has thus stigmatized the mass murderers and the torture tortures carried out in these localities. 

Therefore, Pope Francis first made an appeal to the President of the Russian Federation "asking him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death". 

The Pope has also turned to the President of Ukraine to be "open to a series of peace proposals". 

This is not a request to the Ukrainian president to accept the invasion. The important detail is that it is for a "series" of peace proposals. For the Holy See, "a series of peace proposals" means to intend peace proposals that do not touch the territorial integrity of Ukraine, that reduce the stillness of the war, that restore balance in the region.  

The dialogue with the Russian Federation

The Holy See has never tried to dialogue with the Russian Federation. Pope Francis, moreover, has made it known that he is ready to go to Moscow. On February 25, when the war had just begun, he decided in a totally irritable way to go to visit the Embassy of the Russian Federation at the Holy See, seeking a dialogue with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, an open "finale", as the Pope himself has underlined. 

This "finestrina" is never open. Now, the dialogue is still ongoing. Cardinal Pietro Parolin had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 8, 2022, and met him on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. 

According to the Russian Foreign Minister, during the meeting Lavrov would have "explained the reasons for the current crisis in the relations between Russia and the West, which is the result of NATO's 'crisis' to destroy Russia and divide the world.". The Foreign Minister has always stressed that "the measures adopted by our country are aimed at guaranteeing independence and security, as well as at counteracting the egemonic aspirations of the United States to control all global processes".

On that occasion there was also talk of the referendum which, according to the Russian Foreign Minister, was held at the same time - "are the realization of the legitimate rights of the inhabitants of these territories to self-determination and the organization of life according to their own civil, cultural and religious traditions".

This is obviously only the Russian version of the story. The Holy See has not made any official communications. It is known, however, that it was Cardinal Parolin who asked for the meeting.

From the encounter, not only a complicated situation has resulted, but also the absolute difficulty (not to say impossibility) to involve the Russians in a peace negotiation. From here, probably, the Angelus of Pope Francis is also born, refined in detail. As if he were aware that the Holy See cannot be a mediating force.

A mediation of the Holy See for the end of the war?

It cannot be, because a mediation, in order to be fruitful, must be decided by both parties. At the moment, however, it seems that there is no Russian will to have a mediation. Even a recent interview of Metropolitan Antonij, head of the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has shown that Russia and the Holy See seem not to be so close.

"At the moment, relations between the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow are frozen," Antonij told the Russian agency Interfax. As far as an ecumenical relationship is concerned, this relationship also has a political impact, especially because of the way in which the Patriarchate of Moscow has a double-edged mandate to the presidency of the Russian Federation. 

Sono tempi molto diversi da giugno, quando era stata proprio l'agenzia governativa russa Ria Novosti to spread the news that the Russian Federation supported the mediation of the Holy See for the resolution of the war in Ukraine. He did so by reporting the statements of Alexei Paramonov, director of the first European department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who had noted, in a very significant change of tone, that "the Vatican leadership has repeatedly stated its readiness to provide any possible assistance to achieve peace and to end the hostilities in Ukraine.. These observations are confirmed in practice. We maintain an open and reliable dialogue on a number of issues, mainly related to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine".

What has changed from June to today? First of all, the course of the war has changed, and therefore also the willingness to negotiate. And then, the commitment of the Holy See has changed. Which, at the diplomatic level, always starts from an essential point: to respect the Ukrainian territorial integrity. 

Ukrainian territorial integrity

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican "Minister of Foreign Affairs", has asked to "resist the temptation to accept compromises on Ukrainian territorial integrity" during a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University on 14 June.

Gallagher was on a visit to Ukraine between May 18 and 21, and during that trip he underlined that the Holy See "defends Ukrainian territorial integrity." 

It is obvious that for the Holy See a negotiated solution is necessary, and not a negotiated solution. 

As a Church, Gallagher said, "we must work for peace and also underline the ecumenical dimension. We must also resist the temptation to accept compromises on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. On the contrary, we must use this", that of territoriality, "as a principle of peace. We hope to be able to start negotiations soon on a treaty for a future of peace".

Papa Francesco's gesture is now being carried out within this diplomatic framework. The Ukrainian territorial integrity is not under discussion. Just as the Holy See's judgment on the war is not under discussion. Suffice it to consider that already in 2019, when the Pope summoned the Synod and the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian vescovii to Rome for an interdicasterial meeting, Cardinal Parolin described what is happening in Ukraine as "hybrid war". 

With his statement, Pope Francis wanted to further clarify his position. It is a belated clarification, however, in the face of various situations that have affected a sensitive Ukrainian public opinion - from the choice to make a Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman wear the cross on the Way of the Cross on Holy Friday, a gesture seen as a pressure for reconciliation, to the request for the Russian intellectual Darya Dugina, launched without reference to the person, but linking the attack that caused her death to the war in Ukraine when it is still unknown who put a bomb in her machine. 

In any case, the Pope has marked a very precise line, a point of no return. It could look like a scattered attempt, a last appeal to Ukraine. But perhaps it is the beginning of a new diplomatic offensive of the Holy See, launched behind the quintet. 

The authorAndrea Gagliarducci

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