Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi and U.S. President Joe Biden are pictured in a combination photo. Biden will meet July 18, 2023, with Cardinal Zuppi, Pope Francis’ special envoy to seek a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war in Ukraine. OSV News photo/CNS file, Paul Haring/Tom Brenner, Reuters

Biden discusses war, humanitarian concerns in Ukraine with Pope Francis' envoy

By  Kate Scanlon, Gina Christian OSV News
  • July 19, 2023

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden met July 18 with Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Pope Francis' special envoy, to seek a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Cardinal Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, Italy, and president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, was being accompanied by an official from the Vatican's Secretariat of State, the Vatican said. His visit to Washington follows previous visits to Kyiv and Moscow as a special envoy on behalf of the Holy See.

A White House readout of the closed-press meeting said Biden "shared his wishes for Pope Francis's continued ministry and global leadership and welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. archbishop as cardinal."

"They also discussed 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 readout said.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a July 17 press briefing that Cardinal Zuppi "is coming at the specific request and as an envoy of the pope to have discussions here about the war in Ukraine, about -- specifically about humanitarian concerns in Ukraine."

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia told OSV News July 18, "I hope and pray that Cardinal Zuppi's conversations in Washington will promote and contribute to a just peace and convince (Russia's President Vladimir) Putin to stop the invasion and pull back his army from the occupied territory."

"However, I fear that attitudes in Moscow are intransigent and even worse, genocidal," Archbishop Gudziak said.

According to Ukraine's government, Russia has forcibly deported close to 19,600 Ukrainian children, in violation of Article II(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Of those, 494 have been killed and only 358 returned to date.

An investigation published July 17 by The Telegraph revealed approximately 2,150 Ukrainian children are currently in "re-education" camps in Belarus, Russia's ally, subject to beatings and Russian indoctrination, with some children trained to use weapons.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and his commissioner for children's rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.

The ICC charged the two with the war crimes of "unlawful deportation" and "unlawful transfer" of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

The crimes were allegedly committed in occupied Ukrainian territory since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, continuing attacks it had begun in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

According to Ukraine government officials, more than 98,600 war crimes by Russian forces have been documented in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.

"Having spent a couple of weeks in Ukraine and having spoken with wounded soldiers, widows, and internally displaced persons, I can state that Ukrainians are grateful to President Biden and the people of America for their prayers, accurate information on the war, and aid -- humanitarian, economic, and defensive," Archbishop Gudziak said. "The humanitarian efforts conducted by the Holy See at the request of Pope Francis are critically important."

"Nobody wants peace more than the people of Ukraine," he said. "They are paying the greatest price for defending world peace, justice and international order."

Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Zuppi in June as his envoy to promote peaceful dialogue amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Holy See Press Office said in a statement that Cardinal Zuppi's visit to Washington will "promote peace in Ukraine."

"It seeks to facilitate the exchange of ideas and opinions regarding the current tragic situation, as well as to provide support for humanitarian initiatives aimed at alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable people, particularly children," the statement said.

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