VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has sent Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, his special envoy, to Washington as part of his ongoing humanitarian efforts to help Ukraine.
The July 17-19 visit is "in the context of the mission intended to promote peace in Ukraine and aims to exchange ideas and opinions on the current tragic situation and to support humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the suffering of the most affected and fragile people, especially children," the Vatican said in a communique July 17.
The cardinal traveled to Russia and Ukraine in recent months to meet with government officials on the pope's behalf.
Cardinal Zuppi, who is archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops' conference, will "travel to Washington D.C. as envoy of the Holy Father Francis," the Vatican said July 17. He would be accompanied by an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Cardinal Zuppi recently explained that the Vatican mission has been focusing on developing a plan to return to Ukraine children illegally deported to Russia, not on mediating the conflict.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said U.S. President Joe Biden and Cardinal Zuppi will meet at the White House July 18 to "discuss the widespread suffering caused by Russia's brutal war in Ukraine."
"They will also discuss efforts by the United States and the Holy See to provide humanitarian aid to those affected and the (Holy See's) focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials," Jean-Pierre said in a written statement July 17.
The cardinal was in Moscow June 28-30 and met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow; Yury Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser and former 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.
Ushakov said in an interview with Interfax news agency published June 30 that while no agreements were made in their meetings, the cardinal's desire to "depoliticize all humanitarian affairs" was important to Russia, and that Moscow "appreciates the balanced and impartial stance of the Vatican" on the situation in Ukraine.
At a book presentation in Rome July 4, the cardinal told reporters that he had already spoken to the pope about his trip to Moscow and that the Vatican is currently working on a "mechanism" to help Ukrainian children that have been taken into Russia, Vatican News reported.
"The children should be able to return to Ukraine," he said. "The first step is verifying the children and then seeing how to return them, starting with the most fragile."
"There is no peace plan (or) mediation," he said, "there is a great aspiration that the violence ends, that human lives can be saved starting with the defense of the youngest."
Speaking at an event on war in Europe July 2, Cardinal Zuppi said that Ukrainian officials are strongly requesting the Vatican’s assistance on humanitarian efforts, particularly on protecting minors and young children.
The cardinal said July 2 that Pope Francis' concern is to "create all opportunities to see, to listen and encourage everything that can lead toward a resolution to the conflict."
"Of course there are small openings, we must look for them," he said. "It is precisely in the darkness that the light of peace must be sought while knowing no one has a magic wand."
Cardinal Zuppi traveled to Ukraine June 5-6 where he visited Bucha and Kyiv. In the capital he met with Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. After their meeting June 6 the president wrote on his Telegram channel that only diplomatic isolation and pressure on Russia could bring a "just peace" to Ukraine.