Pope Francis meets with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian bishops' conference and the pope's envoy for peace in Ukraine, in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Aug. 24, 2023. CNS photo/Vatican Media

After Beijing meeting, Pope Francis' envoy to return to Moscow, Russian official says

By  Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
  • September 15, 2023

VATICAN CITY -- After meeting with a Chinese official in Beijing to discuss paths toward peace in Ukraine and ensuring grain exports from the country, Pope Francis' special envoy is expected to return to Moscow, Russia's foreign minister said.

"The efforts of the Vatican, whose envoy is going to visit once again, are continuing," Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said during a roundtable discussion on the war in Ukraine Sept. 15 with diplomats representing more than 30 countries. "We are ready to meet with everyone, we are ready to talk to everyone," he added.

The minister's comments came as Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, was in Beijing Sept. 13-15 for the latest leg of a peace mission that has also taken him to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington to meet with government and church officials on Pope Francis' behalf.

The Vatican said Sept. 14 that the cardinal's meeting with Li Hui, China's special representative for Eurasian affairs, "was dedicated to the war in Ukraine and its dramatic consequences, underscoring the need to unite efforts to favor dialogue and find paths that may lead to peace."

"The issue of food security was also addressed, with the hope that grain exports could soon be ensured, especially for the countries most at risk," the Vatican statement said.

In July, Russia pulled out of a deal to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to pass through the Black Sea, threatening the food supply of developing countries which import grain from Ukraine. Days later, after praying the Angelus in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis publicly called on Russian authorities to resume the deal and called the destruction of grain "a grave insult to God."

Cardinal Zuppi had visited Moscow in June and met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow; Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser and former Russian ambassador to the United States; and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, accused by the International Criminal Court of aiding the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. The cardinal had discussed the repatriation of Ukrainian children from Russia -- an initiative welcomed by the Ukrainian government -- during his meetings in Moscow as well as in his meeting with President Joe Biden in July.

Yet the Vatican's Sept. 14 statement did not include the repatriation of Ukrainian children among the topics Cardinal Zuppi discussed with Li in Beijing.

Speaking about their meeting, Mao Ning, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said Sept. 13 that China "is always committed to promoting peace talks" and is "ready work with all sides and continue to play a constructive role in deescalating the situation."

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