Pope Francis on Tuesday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been dodging his request for a meeting in Moscow to talk about peace in Ukraine.
At the start of the war, Francis made the unprecedented gesture of visiting alone the Russian ambassador to the Vatican, to plead for an end to hostilities.
Speaking to Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, the pontiff revealed that 20 days into the conflict, which began on Feb. 24, the pope asked his deputy Cardinal Pietro Parolin to also pass on the message that he was ready to go to Moscow.
“We still haven’t received an answer and we are still pushing for it, though I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting right now,” Francis said.
The pope said a visit to Moscow should have precedence over Kyiv, where he has been invited by the Ukrainians.
“I should meet Putin first. But even I am a priest, what can I do? I do what I can. If only Putin opens the door…”, Francis said.
The pope confirmed that he canceled a meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, planned for June 14 in Jerusalem. Kirill has been a staunch supporter of the Russian war on Ukraine, a stance that Francis criticized.
“The Patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy,” the pope said.
Francis said he was “pessimistic” about peace prospects, even though he said he was told by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who met him in Rome last month, that Russia would cease hostilities on May 9, a symbolic date marking the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.
“There is not enough will for peace. War is terrible and we must say it loud,” he said.