Vatican foreign minister visits Kyiv this week as Holy See seeks to balance concern for Ukrainians with efforts to keep open channel of dialogue with Russia
VATICAN CITY – Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher is visiting kyiv this week as the Holy See seeks to balance its concern for Ukrainians amid the war in Russia with its efforts to maintain opened a channel of dialogue with Moscow.
Gallagher is due to arrive Wednesday and meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Friday, a visit that was originally scheduled before Easter but was postponed after Gallagher fell ill with COVID-19.
“It has to be proportional,” Gallagher told state television RAI when announcing his trip. “Yes, Ukraine has the right to defend itself and it needs weapons to do so, but it has to be careful how it does it.”
Gallagher, a 68-year-old career Vatican diplomat from Liverpool, becomes the third papal envoy sent to the region by Francis, after two trusted cardinals visited Ukraine and neighboring countries to assess the humanitarian needs of the people. Ukrainian refugees and bring them the Pope’s solidarity. .
Francis has drawn criticism from some for refusing to condemn Russia or President Vladimir Putin by name, although he has stepped up his criticism of the “barbaric” war and recently met the wives of two Ukrainian soldiers who are held at the besieged Mariupol steelworks. , a gesture of “our concern and participation in the suffering of these families,” Gallagher said.
Francis’ middle line is evidence of the Holy See’s diplomatic tradition of not calling aggressors by name and of its efforts to keep avenues of dialogue open with both sides in a conflict. This so-called “Ostpolitik” dictated the Vatican’s Cold War policy of maintaining relations with the same communist regimes that persecuted faithful Catholics on the ground.
In the case of Ukraine, the Holy See is keen not to sever newly improved relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which took a big step forward in 2016 when Francis met Russian Patriarch Kirill in Havana.
Francis has so far declined an invitation from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to visit Ukraine, recently saying he wanted to visit Moscow first. Francis said he asked early on to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Russian leader has yet to respond.
Francis, however, canceled a scheduled June meeting with Kirill, who justified Putin’s war on ideological and spiritual grounds. Francis said Vatican diplomats – presumably Gallagher and his boss, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin – realized the optics would be wrong.
But the Vatican is still pursuing its diplomatic efforts in the hope of securing at least a ceasefire.
“The Holy See has this calling,” Gallagher told RAI. “We try never to take one side or the other, but to create space for dialogue and to be available to all in the interest of peace, and to find solutions to these terrible Conflicts.”