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President Biden to receive Pope’s Ukraine peace envoy in DC

Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi


I.Media - published on 07/17/23 - updated on 07/18/23

After his trips to Ukraine and Russia to promote peace, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi will be able to speak with Biden about ending the war.

President Joe Biden will receive Cardinal Matteo Zuppi on July 18, according to a White House press release. After visiting Ukraine and Russia, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is in Washington, DC, from July 17 to 19 as Pope Francis’ envoy, as the Holy See Press Office announced July 17.

The archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, who is close to the Community of Sant’Egidio, will be accompanied by an official from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State on this new leg of his peace mission. The Holy See statement explains this visit takes place “in the context of the mission intended to promote peace in Ukraine.”

It explains that this trip to Washington “aims to exchange ideas and opinions on the current tragic situation and to support initiatives in the humanitarian field to alleviate the suffering of the most affected and fragile people, especially children.” 

The US government’s press release states that President Biden and Cardinal Zuppi will discuss the “widespread suffering caused by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine,” as well as “efforts by the United States and the Holy See to provide humanitarian aid.” Lastly, it mentions “the Papal See’s focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials.”

According to Ukraine, there are as many as 20,000 children in this situation. When reporters asked Pope Francis about this subject on the flight from Budapest last April 30, he expressed the Holy See’s willingness to aid in freeing these children. “The Holy See has acted as a mediator in some situations concerning prisoner exchange, and through the Embassy it went well.” The Pontiff stressed that helping the children is “the right thing and we have to help” and that “the Holy See is willing to do it.”

His background as a mediator

The Sant’Egidio community has taken on significant importance under Francis’ pontificate, sometimes being described as a diplomatic armparallel to that of the Secretariat of State. Within this lay Catholic association committed to ecumenical dialogue and peace work, Cardinal Zuppi, then a simple priest, led an important mediation process in 1992 in Mozambique, then torn by a civil war. Subsequently, he mediated for Sant’Egidio in Tanzania, Cuba, Kosovo, and in the Basque Country in 2017, when members of ETA decided to make him a “moral witness” when they laid down their arms. 

Cardinal Zuppi first went to Kyiv from June 5 to 6 and met the nation’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. The prelate then traveled to Moscow from June 28 to 30, where he met Patriarch Kirill; the President’s advisor on international affairs, Yuri Ushakov; and the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

The Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has repeatedly stressed that the Holy See’s specific area of commitment would be humanitarian aid. The mission remains delicate, however, with both Russian and Ukrainian authorities refusing “mediation” by the Holy See. Furthermore, the Kremlin has indicated that no agreement has been reached following Cardinal Zuppi’s meetings with Russian political representatives.

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