Pope makes unprecedented visit to Russian Embassy

Russian Embassy

In an unprecedented papal gesture, Pope Francis has travelled to the Russian Embassy in Rome to personally “express his concern about the war” in Ukraine.

Francis later assured a top Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader he would do “everything I can” to help.

Usually, popes receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican. Diplomatic protocol would have called for the Vatican foreign minister to summon the Russian ambassador.

It was a sign of his anger at Moscow’s invasion, and his willingness to appeal personally for an end to hostilities, that saw Francis break with protocol and travel the short distance to the Russian Embassy.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the visit, and officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

“The Holy See press office confirms that the pope went to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See on Via della Conciliazione, clearly to express his concern about the war. He was there for just over a half-hour,” Bruni said.

Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev told Russian media: “The focus of the conversation was the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Pope Francis expressed great concern for the situation of the entire population, both in the Donbas (in Eastern Ukraine) and in other areas, and called for the protection of children, the protection of the sick and suffering, the protection of people”.

Avdeev also categorically denied to the Rome correspondent of the Russian news agency TASS that Pope Francis had offered to mediate the conflict, an idea reported by the Argentine news agency Télam.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church welcomed Francis’ protocol-bending diplomatic intervention. He said he hoped it would help dialogue prevail over force.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk said the pope later phoned him in Kyiv and assured him, “I will do everything I can”.

“In particular, the pope praised the decision to remain with the people and to be at the service of the neediest”. This included opening the basement of Resurrection Cathedral in Kyiv as a bomb shelter. It was already being used by dozens of people including families with children.

“The Holy Father assured His Beatitude Sviatoslav of his closeness, support and prayers” the press office said. At the end of the call, the pope gave his blessing to the Ukrainian people.

Ukrainian supporters gather at the Vatican on Sunday for Angelus prayer.

Angelus prayer

On Sunday, as people gathered in St Peter’s Square for the midday recitation of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said his heart was “broken” by the war in Ukraine, and he pleaded again, “Silence the weapons!”

“Many times, we prayed that this path would not be taken,” he said, but rather than giving up “we beg God more intensely.”

With many of the people in the square holding Ukrainian flags, Pope Francis greeted them the way they traditionally greet each other, “Slava Isusu Chrystu,” meaning, “Glory to Jesus Christ.”

Francis has also called for dialogue to end the conflict and has urged the faithful to set Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine.


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