How to best promote peace in Ukraine

4 mins read
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis' special envoy to Ukraine, talks Feb. 5, 2024, about his mission to the war-torn country during a conference at Cardinal Wyszynski University in Warsaw, Poland. Cardinal Zuppi said he is especially focused on bringing abducted Ukrainian children back home from Russia, where they were transferred either as orphans or without their parents' knowledge nor consent. (OSV News photo/courtesy Polish Bishops' Conference)

WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) — Participating in a conference at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis’ special envoy to Ukraine, said that his mission to the war-torn country has specific patterns.

“It is primarily about looking for the best ways to promote peace, and first of all it has a humanitarian dimension. We are particularly mindful of children, especially those uprooted from their family environment,” Cardinal Zuppi told OSV News on Feb. 5.

“We want to get them back for their families. This is also what the Ukrainian authorities cared a lot about,” the cardinal said of Ukrainian children, 19,546 of whom were unlawfully deported and transferred from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

The president of the Italian bishops’ conference pointed out that concrete cooperation has been established and, “slowly” but “surely” some successes are being achieved. According to the cardinal, they give hope to continue the mission.

Finding the solution

Cardinal Zuppi participated in an academic conference titled “Mass migration from Ukraine as a result of Russian aggression,” in which Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, also participated.

In a conversation with OSV News, Cardinal Zuppi cited the example of a Ukrainian teenage boy abducted to Russia and threatened with conscription into the Russian military when he turned 18.

Thanks to the Vatican’s diplomatic actions, the orphaned Ukrainian boy was rescued and transferred to Kyiv, where he lives with his sister. In a conversation with OSV News, the cardinal said there were “many more” similar examples.

“We are interested in the solution, in achieving the goal, not in publicity, propaganda, exploitation by either side of the conflict. It’s about pure humanitarian action, which requires professionalism, verification and unfortunately also time,” he explained.

“We’re just cooperating, we want to help solve problems, especially for the youngest ones, as children are unfortunately victims (of this war). War causes so many casualties, children are even more affected, this is the greatest injustice,” he said.


Cardinal Zuppi also addressed the issue of conducting diplomatic dialogue with those responsible for war crimes, such as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian presidential commissioner for children’s rights. “People must strive for peace with their enemies. This is exactly the point — of course, never forgetting responsibility and justice. Peace requires talking to enemies as well.”

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Lvova-Belova and Putin, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine. Cardinal Zuppi met Lvova-Belova during a two-day peace mission to Moscow on June 29, 2023. Earlier in the month, he visited Kyiv.

Cardinal Zuppi acknowledged that a major challenge to a just peace is Russia’s recognition of its faults and reparations.

“Justice is necessary, and it always requires truth,” he said. “This is a huge challenge, but we must take it up, otherwise we are left only with the logic of force. We must seek peaceful paths of justice, in accordance with the law. This, of course, is not easy, but it requires this ‘third’ in the conflict, and it must be a united international community that seeks the conditions so that the war can be ended.”

Asked about the controversy of ecumenical and diplomatic dialogue with Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who directly supports Putin and his justification for the war in Ukraine, Cardinal Zuppi said that this dialogue “must be possible … despite everything.”

“The Russian Orthodox Church is a very important actor there. This makes it all the more necessary to maintain dialogue. However, let us remember that dialogue does not necessarily mean conceding the interlocutor’s right, agreeing with him. Dialogue is a tool. Here the goal is peace and dialogue is to help build peace. In such a radical conflict, dialogue is of course difficult, it is a huge challenge, but it is necessary,” the Italian cardinal said.

Pope Francis’ special envoy to Ukraine offered assurances that Pope Francis “perfectly understands” the pain of Ukrainians and is on the side of the oppressed and those experiencing injustice.

“I believe that the pope has already manifested in many ways his closeness, his concern for Ukraine, his sensitivity to its pain,” Cardinal Zuppi said, also mentioning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appreciation of the pope’s peaceful engagement and trust in the Catholic Church.

Need for solidarity

Cardinal Zuppi at the same time raised his concern that the interest of Europeans and the entire Western world in the war in Ukraine is declining and that there is less and less information in the media, which also affects the provision of aid to those in need. Societies seem to have grown tired of the war, he said.

“We need to be in solidarity. We have to provide information about what is happening in Ukraine. I see this certain fatigue in the societies, maybe getting used to the fact that this war has simply been going on for so long,” he said, stressing that a “very beautiful and important sign and testimony of solidarity was how Poles opened their homes and hearts to the war refugees from Ukraine. This support must continue.”

He also said that the Church in Italy has decided to organize vacation stays in the cardinal’s native country for children from Ukraine.

“It is necessary to show that the world is not bad, that there is much good in it. Solidarity is a medicine that heals wounded hearts. It gives hope. It is necessary to support especially those who have lost everything and need to build their lives anew,” Cardinal Zuppi argued.

He expressed the hope that meeting Ukrainian children, “looking them in the eye,” learning their story, will further sensitize Italian society to the need for solidarity and support. “Their suffering is also our suffering. Their problem is our problem. This is also what the experience of the coronavirus pandemic taught us,” he added.

Deploring the politicization of the topic of migration in Europe, he stressed that those debates cannot be limited to security issues, as this is usually “propaganda.” He noted that migration also brings opportunities and chances. “An intelligent reception system is necessary,” he argued. As an example, he cited Italy’s huge demand for workers, including skilled specialists in various fields.

Dawid Gospodarek

Dawid Gospodarek writes for OSV News from Warsaw, Poland.