Biden to discuss war, humanitarian concerns in Ukraine with Pope Francis’ envoy

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — President Joe Biden meets 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.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed in a July 17 statement that “President Biden will welcome Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, to the White House on July 18.”

Jean-Pierre said Cardinal Zuppi was traveling to Washington “at the request of Pope Francis.”

“President Biden and Cardinal Zuppi will discuss the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine,” Jean-Pierre said. “They will also discuss efforts by the United States and Holy See to provide humanitarian aid to those affected, and the Papal See’s focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials.”

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.”

“As an example, the thousands and thousands of Ukrainian children that have been shipped off to basically concentration camps in Russia or Russia-occupied territory,” Kirby said. “And we look forward to having those discussions.”

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia told OSV News, “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.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon. Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.

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