Pope Francis grants an interview to Luciano Fontana, Editor of the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, focused on the war in Ukraine, saying “I feel that before going to Kyiv I must go to Moscow.”
“I have a torn ligament; I will have an operation with infiltrations and we will see… I’ve been like this for a long time; I can’t walk. There was a time when popes used to go with the gestatorial chair. It requires a little humiliation.” This is how Pope Francis justified the fact that he could not get up to greet Luciano Fontana and the deputy director Fiorenza Sarzanini of the Corriere della Sera, whom he received at the Casa Santa Marta for an interview that the newspaper published on Tuesday. The conversation centred on the subject of the war in Ukraine, for which the Pope has appealed since it broke out on 24 February, and for which so far he has made many attempts at mediation, starting with the telephone call to President Zelensky, the visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See, and above all the willingness to go to Moscow to meet President Putin. “I asked Cardinal Parolin, after twenty days of war, to send a message to Putin to say that I was willing to go to Moscow.” Of course, affirmed the Pope, the Russian President must first offer a window for dates. “We have not yet received an answer, and we are still insisting, even if I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this time. But how can this brutality not be stopped? Twenty-five years ago we experienced the same thing with Rwanda.
Wars to test weapons
The Pope’s comments also reflected on the reasons for war and on the “trade” in arms, which for him remains a “scandal” opposed by few people. Pope Francis spoke of “an anger facilitated” perhaps, by “NATO’s barking at Russia’s door” that has led the Kremlin to “react badly and unleash the conflict”. “I don’t know how to answer – I’m too far away – the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians,” he reasoned. “The clear thing is that weapons are being tested there. The Russians now know that tanks are of little use and are thinking of other things. This is why wars are waged: to test the weapons we have produced. Few people are fighting this trade, but more should be done.” The Pope also cited the halting in Genoa of a convoy carrying arms to Yemen, which the port authorities chose “two or three years ago” to stop
Visit to Moscow first
No trip to Kyiv is planned at the moment, but first, the Pope would prefer to visit Moscow. Reviewing the efforts made or to be made to stop the escalation of violence, the Pope clarified: “I am not going to Kyiv for now; I feel that I must not go. First I must go to Moscow. First I must meet Putin. But I am also a priest, what can I do? I do what I can. If Putin would only open the door…”. Again the Pope looked to Moscow for the possibility of working together with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. He cited the 40-minute conversation via Zoom on 15 March last and the “justifications” for the war cited by Kirill, and returned to the missed appointment in June in Jerusalem. “I listened,” said Pope Francis in the interview with Corriere della Sera, “and I told him: I completely fail to understand this. Brother, we are not state clerics; we cannot use the language of politics, but that of Jesus. We are pastors of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek ways of peace, stop the fire of arms. The Patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy. I had a meeting scheduled with him in Jerusalem on 14 June. It would have been our second face-to-face meeting, nothing to do with the war. But now even he agrees: ‘Let’s wait; it could be an ambiguous signal’.”
Wars for international interests
The Pope’s gaze widened again to speak of the rights of peoples in a world at war, a “third world war” so often evoked and feared. He was not raising an “alarm”, he clarified, but offering an “ascertainment of things: Syria, Yemen, Iraq, in Africa one war after another. There are international interests in every bit of it. You cannot think that a free state can make war on another free state. In Ukraine, it seems that it was others who created the conflict. The only thing that is blamed on the Ukrainians is that they reacted in the Donbas, but we are talking about ten years ago. That argument is old. Of course, they are a proud people.” Not enough desire for peace In this regard, the Pope returned to the Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum and to the requests from the Ukrainian side that led to the reading of the meditation at the thirteenth station, led by a Russian and a Ukrainian woman being scrapped. Pope Francis explained the conversation he had with Cardinal Krajewski, who for Easter was in Kyiv for the third time sent by the Pope since the beginning of the conflict.
“I called Krajewski who was there and he told me: ‘Stop, don’t read the prayer. They are right even if we cannot fully understand.’ So they remained silent. They are susceptible; they feel defeated or enslaved because they paid so much in the Second World War. So many men died; they are a martyred people. But we are also careful about what may happen now in Transnistria.” However, he said, 9 May could be the end of it all. Referring to his audience with Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, on 21 April at the Vatican, the Pope said he learned that “the Russians have a plan”. “So, one would also understand the celerity of the escalation of these days. Because now it’s not just the Donbas, it’s Crimea, it’s Odessa, it’s taking away the Black Sea port from Ukraine, it’s everything. I am pessimistic, but we must make every possible gesture to stop the war.
Italian Church looking for an innovative Cardinal
In his conversation with Corriere della Sera, the Pope turned his gaze to Italy, to politics from Napolitano to Mattarella, and to the “very good” relationship with Mario Draghi, calling him “a direct and simple person”. He also expressed his “respect” for Emma Bonino, even if he did not share her ideas, “but she knows Africa better than anyone here.” Then he spoke about the reforms in the Vatican and the Italian Church, which is waiting for the new president of the Bishops’ Conference. “One of the things I’m trying to do to renew the Italian Church is not to change the bishops too much. Cardinal Gantin said that the bishop is the groom of the Church, every bishop is the groom of the Church for life. When there is a habit it is good. That’s why I try to appoint priests, as happened in Genoa, in Turin, in Calabria. I believe that this is the renewal of the Italian Church.” As for the person whom he will choose to head the bishops at the next CEI meeting, he clarified: “I’m trying to find one who wants to make a good change. I prefer it to be a Cardinal, someone who is authoritative and who has the possibility of choosing the secretary; someone of whom I can say, ‘I want to work with this person’.”