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Biden, Pope’s envoy spend long meeting talking Ukraine



Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 07/19/23 - updated on 07/19/23 at 22:17

White House says they discussed particularly the issue of the "forcibly deported Ukrainian children."

[Article updated to include information from the Vatican press office; they reported the meeting lasted “more than an hour”]

Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, a “peacemaker cardinal,” is continuing his special mission from the Pope to try to facilitate peace in Ukraine. After visiting Kyiv and Moscow, he has now spent some 2.5 hours talking with US President Joe Biden at the White House.

The meeting started at 5 pm on Tuesday, July 18. Cardinal Zuppi’s time in the States is set to end this July 19.

The Holy See reported that on July 17, the cardinal met with the president of the US bishops, Archbishop Timothy Broglio.

The next morning the Vatican Delegation, supplemented by the Apostolic Nuncio, Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, and Monsignor Séamus Patrick Horgan, Counselor of the Apostolic Nunciature, met with some members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) of the U.S. Government, to whom it presented the nature and conduct of the mission entrusted to it by the Pope, reflecting together on ways in which it could be made more effective.

Later that day, the Holy See statement added, the cardinal and his delegation met with US President Biden. Cardinal Zuppi gave the president a letter from the Holy Father, “emphasizing the Pope’s sorrow for the suffering caused by the war.”

During the conversation, full readiness was assured to support initiatives in the humanitarian sphere, particularly for children and the most vulnerable people, both to respond to this urgency and to foster pathways to peace.

The morning of July 19, the cardinal and the delegation participated in the Senate Prayer Breakfast, and were able to “brief the participants on the meetings he had had during the various stages of his peace mission.”


A statement released by the White House said that President Biden and the Cardinal spoke about “the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children.”

The issue of the children, an estimated 19,000, has been one of the focuses of the Vatican’s efforts. Ukraine’s government says the true number of Ukrainian children in Russia could be much higher.

Cardinal Zuppi brought up the topic during his previous missions to Kyiv (June 5-6) and Moscow (June 28-30).

‘Promote peace in Ukraine’

Cardinal Zuppi traveled to Washington on July 17, along with representatives of the Vatican Secretariat of State. He also met with several members of Congress before meeting with President Biden.

Ahead of his meeting with President Biden, the Cardinal met on Capitol Hill with several members of the US Congress.

The Holy See Press Office had announced on Monday that Cardinal Zuppi would visit Washington to “promote peace in Ukraine.”

The cardinal is realistic … do what we can

Vatican News noted that the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, said Cardinal Zuppi’s mission is to “open a dialogue: to listen and be listened to.”

Speaking Tuesday to Italian media outlets, he said Pope Francis hopes to “contribute to peace, and more specifically to find inroads on humanitarian grounds, particularly with regard to children.”

“The idea is to consider peace, amid the complicated context,” he said. “The Cardinal is very realistic, and we try to do what we can.”


The Sant’Egidio community, with which Cardinal Zuppi is close, has taken on significant importance under Francis’ pontificate, sometimes being described as a diplomatic arm parallel 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.

Pope FrancisRussiaUkraineUnited States
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