Pope Francis's peace envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi embarked on a three-day visit to Washington on Monday as part of Vatican's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Ukraine war. According to reports, deported Ukrainian children are on top of Zuppi's agenda.
According to a statement, an official from the Vatican secretariat of state is also accompanying the Zuppi on the trip, however, the official's details haven't been divulged. Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops' Conference had earlier visited Moscow and Kyiv as Pope's envoy to broker peace between the warring countries.
“Pope Francis' peace envoy was travelling to Washington on Monday as part of the Holy See's peace initiatives for Ukraine, hoping to support humanitarian operations especially concerning children,” the Vatican said Monday. Cardinal Zuppi will be in the US till Wednesday.
In Moscow, Zuppi met with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, as well as Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has strongly supported the war.
Francis has taken up Ukraine's request to intervene where possible to return Ukrainian children transported to Russia following Moscow's invasion. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine. Russian officials have denied any forced adoptions, saying some Ukrainian children are in foster care.
Zuppi visited Ukraine's capital in June as part of the peace mission. The Cardinal met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian government officials during the visit. During the meeting with Zelenskyy, the Cardinal expressed Vatican's readiness to assist through diplomatic channels and humanitarian initiatives.
Francis has said he hopes the Holy See can facilitate family reunifications, in the same way the Vatican stepped in to facilitate prisoner swaps.
“The visit takes place in the context of the mission intended to promote peace in Ukraine and aims to exchange ideas and opinions on the tragic current situation and to support initiatives in the humanitarian sphere to alleviate the suffering of the most affected and fragile people, especially children,” the statement said.
Francis has repeatedly called for an end to the war but has refrained from outwardly criticising Moscow, part of the Vatican's tradition of maintaining diplomatic neutrality in conflicts in hopes that it can play a behind-the-scenes role in forging peace.
He has irked the US and its allies by repeating Moscow's argument that NATO was barking at its gates, and seemingly making a moral equivalence between Ukrainian and Russian losses.
He has asserted Ukraine's right to self-defence but has sharply criticised the weapons industry, saying the provision of arms to Ukraine by the West could be immoral if it's done with the intention of provoking more war or selling weapons or getting rid of old ones.
(With PTI inputs.)