40 minutes. This is how long the historic meeting between Pope Francis and the President of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelenski, lasted, the first to take place since the beginning of the Russian invasion. A few minutes after four in the afternoon, Zelensky, dressed in his well-known military equipment, has arrived at the Vatican, being received with state honors by the head of the Papal Household, Leonardo Sapienza, and the Swiss Guard.
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Francis was waiting for him at the entrance to the Paul VI Hall, according to the images published by the Ukrainian Embassy to the Holy See. As reported by RaiNews, Bergoglio has given the president a small sculpture representing an olive branch, a symbol of peace, while Zelenski has given the pontiff an icon of the Virgin painted on the remains of a bulletproof vest, as well as the box titled Loss. The meeting, which was requested by Zelenski just three days ago, marks a before and after in the role of the Vatican and, particularly, of Pope Francis, as a possible mediator for the end of the war in Ukraine. A Pope who, the day after the invasion, appeared at the headquarters of the Russian ambassador, Aleksandr Avdeev, whom he received again this week (he is leaving at the end of the month), and who has been the world figure who has most often He has positioned himself against the war and in defense of the “martyred Ukrainian people”, despite the fact that, on occasions, his words, or his gestures (such as the presence, in the last two Via Crucis in the Colosseum, of young Ukrainians and Russians together), have annoyed both Moscow and Kiev alike.
According to the Holy See, during the conversation they discussed “the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war.” Thus, “the Pope promised his constant prayers, evidenced by his numerous public appeals and his continuous invocation to the Lord for peace since February of last year.”
Both leaders, adds the Holy See, “agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts to support the population”, and Francis placed special emphasis on the “urgent need” for “gestures of humanity towards the most fragile people, the innocent victims of the conflict”.
Throughout this year and two months of war, Francisco and Zelenski have spoken on at least two occasions, while a direct conversation with Vladimir Putin has not been possible. The Pope has been invited to kyiv, and has accepted the visit, but on the condition that he also go to Moscow, something that at the moment does not seem to be going to happen.
What it does seem that the Holy See is carrying out, with the most absolute discretion, are the tasks to achieve the exchange of prisoners. During the return flight from his recent trip to Hungary, Francis announced a “peace plan” of which no details are known and which, officially, neither Ukraine nor Russia know anything about, but which could have something to do with it, for which reason has suggested, both with today’s meeting and with China’s imminent dispatch of a mediator.
Also, his meeting, this week, with Patriarch Antonio, Kirill’s foreign affairs representative, with whom Bergoglio also tried, unsuccessfully, to meet last June in Jerusalem to jointly discuss a peace plan. The Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow is one of Putin’s main allies
Before visiting the Pope, Zelensky met with the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and with the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni. “I am grateful for the consistent stance on supporting Ukraine. We are grateful for the important military assistance that gives our country the ability to resist Russian aggression,” the Ukrainian leader said after the meeting at the Quirinale. “The key to our success on the battlefield is the timely receipt of the necessary assistance. Italy was and is on the right side, on the side of truth in this war, ”he said.
After seeing the Italian president, the Ukrainian leader shared a working lunch (about 70 minutes) with Giorgia Meloni, before heading to the Vatican. Meloni assured Zelensky that Italy supports kyiv’s accession to the European Union. “Since the beginning, Italy has been at the forefront of granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, and will continue to secure its support to facilitate the progressive integration of Kiev, which fights to uphold the European values of freedom and democracy; and it is an outpost of the security of the European continent”, Meloni stressed.
For his part, Zelenski assured that the Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russia could be more than 200,000. Thus, he explained that Kiev has identified, with their names and ages, more than 19,000 children but that “the real number of children taken by force to the territory of the aggressor” could be at least 200,000, “and we do not know their fate”, only the Russian government “teaches them to hate” Ukraine.