The subtle diplomacy of the Vatican


Pope Francis visits a sick child in the children’s hospital in Rome. / afp

Francis moves on the wire so as not to harm the dialogue with the Kirill Orthodox Church, Putin’s spiritual arm, and preserve his mediating role

On February 25, just twenty-four hours after the first Russian armored vehicles set foot on Ukrainian soil, Francis suddenly appeared at the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Holy See, located on Via della Conciliazione a few meters from San Pedro , to leave a message against the war. From that first gesture, unprecedented and foreign to diplomatic protocol, to the request of the mayor of kyiv, former boxer Vitali Klitschko, to visit the city in these dramatic moments, there is a long way to go, a very difficult one for the pontiff, who does not want to compromising the ecumenical dialogue and intends to shield its role in an eventual direct negotiation.

The Vatican’s reaction to the invasion has crescendoed, both in tone and language, as Russian troops have extended their deadly fire against civil society to the horror of the civilized world. From prayers he has gone into action with the sending of two cardinals to the territory at war, the Polish Konrad Krajewski, pontifical almoner, and the Czech Michael Czernhy, prefect of the powerful dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development. The latter has been the first ‘minister’ of a state that has entered Ukraine, where he has met with political and religious leaders. It was a movement that could be visualized.

But the Vatican diplomatic machinery also moves through subterranean channels, in a subtle, almost imperceptible way, as does NATO intelligence. Both in the UN through its representatives, and in the Rome-kyiv-Moscow axis, with the activity of its nuncios (ambassadors), in an activity coordinated by its chief executive, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolín, who maintains a open channel with the Russian foreign minister. Without disdaining the parallel diplomacy of the community of Sant’Egidio, engaged in numerous conflicts.

Russia attack, live |  «Mariúpol is a destroyed city, as if it had been erased from the map»

The religious elements that underlie the invasion have not been properly valued, despite the fact that they are being wielded and exploited: Russia was born in Crimea, where Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity around the year 980 (the baptismal font is still preserved), and Since then, the political and religious powers, in perfect marriage, consider that Ukraine is an inseparable part of the Great and Holy Russia. The cradle of their Christianity. Its founding history. The Moscow patriarchate, shepherded by Kirill, is strictly loyal to the Kremlin government and shares its (pathological?) nostalgia for an Empire that is no longer an Empire. Religion acts as a unifying element. Kirill believes that the Putin regime is a “miracle from God.”

The Ukrainian Orthodox have always aspired to have their own patriarchate. At the end of 2018 they became independent and became a national Church, breaking three centuries of submission to the Moscow patriarchy. Now it is clearly pro-Western. In fact, the schism was blessed by the patriarchate of Constantinople, of great historical weight and moral ascendancy in orthodoxy.

religion and identity

It was a decision that angered both Putin and Kirill, who included it in an anti-Russian strategy. They are religious movements, but with political dimensions. In the East, the religious factor has enormous cultural depth and is closely linked to the identity of the people, where faith merges with militant nationalism.

Kirill has been left alone in his defense of the invasion, and cornered by the rest of the churches. The patriarch not only gave the Army an icon of the Virgin Mary to “achieve a quick victory,” but also delivered a thunderous homily in which he justified military action to combat the “forces of the devil,” which he identified with the “lobby gay» western. God is with us, he came to tell them. In line with Putin’s warmongering strategy, Kirill has also accused NATO of “flooding Ukraine with weapons” and “the most terrible thing: re-educating the population as enemies of Russia.”

Francis remained prudent and conciliatory in his speeches, in which he did not name Russia or quote Putin, something that has been taken advantage of by the opposition movement to the Pontiff, which has accused him of complacency with Moscow, according to a document anonymous for a future conclave. Until on Wednesday he decided to call Kirill to tell him that “there is no holy war and no just war.” It was also a message for Putin, since the patriarch is his spiritual arm and the supporter of his powerful ideology: “He who supports violence profane the name of God.”

Bergoglio makes efforts not to compromise the ecumenical dialogue. This mine has exploited him when the talks so that he could travel to Moscow and meet Kirill were very advanced, since the two had an express contact at the Havana airport in 2016. Traveling to Russia was also the dream of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Now it is further away.

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