Pope Francis has said he offered to travel to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to stop the war in Ukraine but has yet to hear back.
The pontifex made the request for a meeting via the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, 20 days after Putin ordered troops to enter Ukraine on February 24, the pope told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Tuesday.
Popes for decades have sought to visit Moscow as part of the longstanding effort to heal relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which split with Rome more than 1,000 years ago. But an invitation has never been forthcoming.
“Of course, it would be necessary for the leader of the Kremlin to make available some window of opportunity,” the pope was quoted as saying.
“But we still have not had a response and we are still pushing, even if I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this moment,” he added.
Following suggestions over a visit to the Ukrainian capital, the pope was clear: “I am not going to Kyiv now … I have to go to Moscow first, I have to meet Putin.”
During the interview, Francis also reported a conversation he had in March with the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill – a staunch supporter of the invasion.
“With paper in hand, he read all of the justifications for the war,” the pope told Corriere. “I listened and told him: ‘I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use language of politics, but that of Jesus … For this we need to find the paths of peace, to stop the firing of arms.’”
“He can’t turn into Putin’s altar boy,” Francis added. The two religious leaders were supposed to meet in Jerusalem, but the Vatican called off the meeting to avoid “confusion”.
The pope has repeatedly called for an end to the hostilities in the war-torn country but has not directly criticised Putin.
In early April, the pope said some “potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts”.
Francis has frequently denounced the weapons industry and the announced increases in defence spending by the West in recent weeks.
But he has also defended the right of Ukrainians to protect their territory from the Russian invasion, in line with Catholic social doctrine. He told Corriere he felt he was too removed to judge the morality of resupplying the Ukrainian armed forces from the West.
But he also said he was trying to understand why Russia had reacted as it had. Maybe “this barking of NATO at Russia’s door” had prompted it, he was quoted as saying, “An anger that I don’t know if you can say was provoked, but may be facilitated.”