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Pope Reveals He’s Working on Secret ‘Mission’ of Peace in Ukraine - The New York Times – 30.04.23

Pope Francis said he was doing “all that is humanly possible” to help return Ukrainian children taken to Russia and urged Hungary not to slam doors on migrants says Jason Horowitz


BUDAPEST — Pope Francis said on Sunday that the Vatican was involved in a secret “mission” to stop the war between Russia and Ukraine and that it would do “all that is humanly possible” to return children taken from Ukraine to Russia and reunite families.


The pope’s remarks to reporters aboard the papal plane returning from a three-day trip to Budapest did not specify what the “not yet public” mission entailed. But Francis said he had privately discussed the situation with both Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and with the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Budapest, Metropolitan Hilarion.


“In these meetings we did not just talk about Little Red Riding Hood,” Francis said. “We spoke of all these things. Everyone is interested in the road to peace.”


Though Mr. Orban leads a country that is a member of both NATO and the European Union, his position on the war has often been at odds with the rest of Europe. He has opposed sending military aid to Ukraine and imposing international sanctions against Russia.


Early in the war, the pope was reluctant to name Russia as the aggressor, in part because he hoped that keeping the Vatican’s traditional neutrality could put him in a position to broker a cease-fire or peace. But questions about his failure to call out Russia’s invasion, and pressure from Ukraine, eventually led him to condemn Russia. He has compared Russia’s behavior to massacres under Stalin and has consistently supported Ukrainians and called attention to their plight.


But Francis, who said the Vatican had previously played a role in facilitating prisoner swaps between the sides, now seeks to be a protagonist in a peace process. As the war enters its 15th month, both the Russians and Ukrainians are preparing spring offensives and few believe a negotiated peace is imminent.


The State of the War

  • A Large-Scale Attack: Russia launched its first widespread aerial assault in more than a month against Ukrainian civilian targets, killing at least 25 people — the deadliest such attack since January.

  • Grain Supplies: E.U. ambassadors agreed to allow Ukraine’s grains into the bloc free of tariffs for another year; the waiver was first enacted last year to support the country during the war. They also granted aid to farmers in E.U. countries where crop prices have collapsed because of cheaper imports.

  • Taking Precautions: The United States is wiring Ukraine with sensors that can detect‌‌ radiation from nuclear weapons or dirty bombs and can confirm the identity of the attacker. The initiative could help verify Moscow’s culpability if Russia detonated a radioactive weapon.

“I think that peace is always made by opening channels,” said the pope, who on Thursday met with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of Ukraine, with whom Francis said he had also discussed a “peace formula.” Mr. Shmyhal asked for the pope’s help with the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, a practice the International Criminal Court last month called a war crime.


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Pope Reveals He’s Working on Secret ‘Mission’ of Peace in Ukraine - by Jason Horowitz for
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Jason Horowitz is the Rome bureau chief, covering Italy, the Vatican, Greece and other parts of Southern Europe. He previously covered the 2016 presidential campaign, the Obama administration and Congress, with an emphasis on political profiles and features. More about Jason Horowitz


A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2023, Section A, Page 9 of the New York edition with the headline: Pope Says He’s Working on Secret ‘Mission’ of Peace in Ukraine. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Pope Francis during the Mass in a photograph released by the Vatican. The Hungarian government has sought to cast its leader and Francis as like-minded on the war in Ukraine, with both having called for a cease-fire. Credit...Vatican Media, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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