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Pope Francis greets President Zelensky, May 13, 2023.Twitter/Screenshsot

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Weeks after Pope Francis hinted at peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met the pontiff Saturday and proceeded to publicly reject the discussed possibilities of peace between the two nations. 

On May 13, Pope Francis received Zelensky in private audience for around 40 minutes, in a visit which had been rumored in the preceding days but only confirmed at the last minute. It was the first time they had met since the start of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022.

The Ukranian president was also in Rome to meet Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as part of a current series of visits to European nations meeting politicians and heads of state. 

Welcoming Zelensky to the Vatican — who was adorned in his customary outfit instead of a formal suit — Pope Francis spoke chiefly about the war between Russia and Ukraine. The Holy See Press Office stated that Francis highlighted the “humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war.”

Credit: Andrii Yurash/Twitter

Both Francis and Zelenksy “agreed on the need for continued humanitarian efforts to support the population,” while Francis “stressed the urgent need for ‘gestures of humanity’ toward the most fragile people, the innocent victims of the conflict.”

The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Gallagher additionally spoke with Zelensky about the “need to continue efforts to achieve peace” as well as the life of the Catholic Church in Ukraine.

The Ukranian president gifted Pope Francis a plate of body armor, painted with an image of Mary, while Francis gave Zelensky a bronze cast of an olive branch. 

Background to meeting

Zelensky’s visit comes two weeks after Francis received the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal at the Apostolic Palace. The two also talked about the conflict, highlighting the plight of displaced children.

Then on his return flight from Hungary on April 30, Francis suddenly stated that the Vatican was involved in organizing peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. He stated: “I am willing to do whatever needs to be done. Also, there is a mission going on now, but it is not public yet. Let’s see how… When it is public I will talk about it.”

READ: Pope claims a secret peace mission for Russia and Ukraine is underway. Is this true?

As noted by LifeSite, various officials both from Russia and Ukraine swiftly and firmly denied any existence or even knowledge of such peace talks. Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, additionally stated May 3 that “Ukraine doesn’t know about it.” Yurash added he had a private meeting scheduled with Francis for May 4, and that “I will for sure ask him what it is.”

Francis’ close aide — the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin — then supported the Pope’s words, adding he was “surprised” by the Russian and Ukrainian denial, stating that “to my knowledge, they were and are aware.” The joint denial “surprises me and I don’t know what motivation or reasoning it responds to,” said Parolin.

Zelensky rejects papal plans

But shortly after his meeting with the Pope on May 13, Zelensky added further doubt to any such peace process, revealing details of the private meeting. The former actor-turned-president wrote online that he was grateful to Francis “for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians” and that they spoke about the “tens of thousands of deported children.” 

Zelensky added how he had asked the Pope to support the president’s own view of peace, which involved having “no equality” between Ukraine and Russia in the process.

In addition, I asked to condemn  crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.

I also talked about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace. I proposed joining its implementation.

While Zelensky greeted the Pope by saying the visit was a “great honor,” he was less supportive in later comments to the media. Following the papal audience, Zelensky then conducted interviews as reported by Italian news outlets, during which he denigrated Pope Francis’ efforts for peace. “With all due respect to His Holiness, we do not need mediators, we must express actions for a just peace,” he said.

“The war is in Ukraine and the peace plan must be Ukrainian,” added Zelensky, who became president in April 2019 after starring in a four-year long comedy show which portrayed him as the country’s president and which ended shortly before he won the election. 

“I invited the Pope as one of the leaders to work on the formula of peace,” he said, adding “but we cannot invite Russia that would block everything.” 

READ: Are Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and Russia’s Vladimir Putin both globalists?

With Zelensky thus publicly disavowing the Pope’s reported peace process until the Holy See conforms to the Ukrainian desires, the role of the Vatican in effecting peace appears to be further hampered. 

The late Cardinal George Pell warned that the Vatican under Francis had lost any of its former political influence. Writing his famous memo under the pseudonym “Demos,” Pell stated:

The political influence of Pope Francis and the Vatican is negligible. Intellectually, Papal writings demonstrate a decline from the standard of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Decisions and policies are often ‘politically correct,’ but there have been grave failures to support human rights in Venezuela, Hong Kong, mainland China, and now in the Russian invasion… No public Vatican support for the Catholic community in Ukraine, especially the Greek Catholics… The Vatican’s political prestige is now at a low ebb.

Just two days before meeting with Zelensky, Francis also received the outgoing Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev. Francis had often cited his good relationship with the ambassador, who had served in the role since early 2013. Avdeev’s replacement has not yet been announced.

Father Antonio Spadaro S.J., the director of Jesuit-run La Civiltà Cattolica, addressed the issue following Zelenksy’s visit. He stated that neither Russia nor Ukraine “want to talk about peace because it sounds like a defeat.”

“The logic of war is not to talk about mediation, but to talk about victory, while the Holy See’s task is to try to close hostilities,” Spadaro told Il Giornale on Monday. “But if you want to reach a solution you have to be open to necessary mediation.”