On June 8 of this year, Pope Francis received a small Ukrainian delegation. This meeting was informal and exclusively public.
In fact, it was organized by the Pope’s long-time friend, the Argentinian Alejandro, who invited two of his friends: Yevhen Yakushev from Mariupol and Denys Kolyada, a consultant for dialogue with religious organizations.
As a graduate of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Denys assisted me, the Ukrainian Catholic University’s Vice-Rector, in becoming part of this delegation.
Being a good friend of the Pope, it pains Alejandro that Ukrainian society perceives some of His Holiness’s steps ambiguously. Thus, he decided to create such an informal platform for communication.
Moreover, through him, the Pope received several letters from some public institutions and religious and community leaders. Among those letters was one from the already mentioned Denys Kolyada.
This letter was especially pleasing to the Pope, being written with great sincerity and youthful enthusiasm. The Pope responded to him personally and with great humility. This is how sympathy and trust grew, making this meeting possible.
Official meetings with the Roman Pontiff last no longer than 25 minutes. The informal nature of our meeting allowed us to talk for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The Holy Father began the meeting with the following words: “We can talk as much as we need,” which unequivocally testified that the Pope did want to listen to us and understand all the peculiarities of the Ukrainian perception.
Thus, we Ukrainians took turns to speak respectfully, at the same time openly analyzing the reasons for the critical attitude of many Ukrainians towards the Vatican’s position on the current Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as towards certain steps of solidarity taken by the Pope himself.
We talked, among other things, about the fact that Russia uses both weapons and false information. Ukraine was viewed through the Russian prism for a long time, particularly in the Vatican.
However, the Christian choice in favor of the offended means it is unfair to look at them through the prism of the aggressor’s information propaganda.
Therefore, the time has come for the Vatican to develop its own Ukrainian policy, one not derived from its Russian policy.
For a long time, the Ukrainian people have lived in the twilight.
Today, we ask the Pope to help us become a people of light. The Ukrainian people could not be the subject of their own story, but now they are fighting for it, paying a high price.
Until recently, other nations had seen Ukrainians as the ones causing problems, while we urge the Pope to see that we can be instrumental in solving those problems.
We also mentioned that many compassionate Europeans make the great mistake of trying to hold Russians accountable by blaming Putin. Yes, the blame for this criminal war lies primarily with the Russian leadership.
Yet war crimes in Ukraine are being committed by Russian soldiers, and the Russian people, who for the most part approve of the war, and are responsible for it too.
That is why loving Russians means revealing to them the true scale of their crime, allowing them to feel the horror of what they have done, and ushering their souls towards sincere repentance in the eyes of God and people.
We asked the Holy Father to support Ukraine’s application for full membership in the European Union, as Ukrainians have proved their loyalty to European values with their blood.
The Pope responded by saying that he would have the next opportunity to do so during a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (the meeting took place on Friday, June 10).
Knowing from the press that the Pope finds it difficult to accept the importance of the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine, we reminded him that Ukraine was the first country to renounce nuclear weapons.
Russia was supposed to guarantee our security and territorial integrity, only to wage war against us later. In 2014, Ukraine reduced its army from half a million to 150,000, which also did us a disservice.
That is why today, Ukraine has the right to defend itself.
The Pope confirmed that the nation, just like any individual, has the right to self-defense.
Otherwise, it may resemble suicide.
It is impossible to list all the topics we touched on during our conversation, and each time we would find an attentive listener in the Pope.
The Pontiff also listened to the story of the tragedy of Mariupol and its defenders – the symbol of Ukrainians’ suffering during this war.
He promised that he would do everything in his power to achieve a successful exchange of interned defenders.
After listening to us, the Holy Father took the floor and listed all his steps taken based on his unequivocal desire to support Ukrainians who had fallen victim to this brutal and unjust war.
He mentioned, in particular, the following:
• on the first day of the war, he called Zelensky; later on, he made two more calls;
• he went to the Russian embassy to draw the world’s attention;
• he tried to come to Moscow to talk to Putin and call for an end to the war, but was politely refused;
• he received Ukrainian children on more than one occasion and appealed to Italians about their moral obligation to support Ukrainian refugee mothers;
• he sent cardinals to Ukraine twice – not because he did not want to go there himself, but to show that he was being attentive to the problems of Ukraine;
• he refused to meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Jerusalem, as previously agreed.
We asked the Pope to strengthen contacts with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which also suffers from Russian propaganda.
It took a long time to discuss the possibility of the Pope’s visit to Ukraine, which we all asked for.
The Holy Father has repeatedly emphasized that he wants to do this. His knee problems are the major obstacle, and doctors strongly advise him against any trips.
His trip to the Congo in July has already been questioned (now we know that the meeting was postponed). However, if a trip to Ukraine becomes technically possible, Pope Francis wants to come to Kyiv and not to the border with Ukraine, as some would advise.
At the end of our talk, we raised the issue of ambiguity in Catholic doctrine regarding the concepts of “just war” and “just peace.”
It would be important for the entire world if the Church were to pay particular attention to clarifying this issue. The Pope actively reacted to this proposal and agreed that such clarification was needed.
It turned out that he had already instructed some cardinals to study this topic in more depth.
By way of conclusion, I should note that the atmosphere during the exchange was very amicable and light-hearted.
The Pope would often and sincerely joke, encouraging our own openness.
In particular, sensing this atmosphere, Denys Kolyada invited the Pope to come to Ukraine with the following words: “Remember that all popes who visited Ukraine became saints later on!”. Everyone laughed at his remark.
We have not forgotten about prayer. First, at Denys’s request, Alejandro read out our joint prayer for the Pope’s speedy recovery.
Then the Holy Father prayed with us for peace in Ukraine.
We all left the meeting feeling grateful to the Pope for the opportunity to share our thoughts and were truly inspired. This conversation was very significant for all of us.
Of course, it does not mean that from now on, the Pope will view the world through the Ukrainian prism.
Indeed, in the future, it might be important for Ukrainians to hear the Vatican’s perspective on certain issues.
However, today there is one thing we can be certain about: communication crises must be resolved via friendly communication.
And that is what we tried to do while in the Vatican.
This article is reprinted from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (https://risu.ua/en/) with the author’s permission.
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