Will Pope Francis Go to Kyiv? Will He Call Out Putin by Name? Here’s What He Told the Media on the Papal Plane

The Holy Father spoke to journalists on his return flight from Malta.

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference from Malta on April 3.
Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference from Malta on April 3. (photo: National Catholic Register / Vatican Media)

Pope Francis was asked on Sunday whether he intended to travel to Ukraine and if he had a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

In response, the Pope said that it was still a possibility that he could visit Ukraine’s war-torn capital, and he continued to denounce Russia’s invasion without mentioning Putin by name.

Speaking to journalists on his return flight from Malta, he confirmed that he was considering a trip to Kyiv, which has faced bombardment since the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.

The Pope told a reporter as he left Rome for Malta on April 2 that the visit remained “on the table.”

During his in-flight press conference on April 3, he underlined that he was “available” to make the journey.

He said: “It’s there as one of the proposals that arrived, but I don’t know if it can be done ... and if doing it will be for the best or if it will be useful and I should do it. It’s all up in the air, right?” 

The Pope said that he had not heard media reports on Sunday about alleged atrocities against civilians committed by Russian forces in Bucha, a city northwest of Kyiv.

News organizations reported that at least 20 bodies dressed in civilian clothing were found in a single street when Ukrainian forces retook the city following the withdrawal of Russian combatants.

“Thank you for telling me this news from today that I did not know,” the Pope said. “War is always a cruelty, an inhumane thing that goes against the human spirit — I don’t say Christian; human. It is the spirit of Cain that is said to go there.”

The Pope added that his envoy, the papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, was likely to travel to Poland to meet Ukrainian refugees at the invitation of Polish President Andrzej Duda. Cardinal Krajewski has visited Ukraine twice since February.

A Message for Putin?

Pope Francis was asked whether he had spoken to Putin since Feb. 24 and, if not, what he would say to him today. In his reply, the Pope continued his policy of not mentioning the Russian leader by name, referring to him as “the president of Russia.”

He said: “The things I have said to the authorities of each side are public. None of the things I said are confidential for me. When I spoke with the patriarch [Kirill], he then gave a good declaration of that which we said to each other.” 

“I spoke to the president of Russia at the end of the year, when he called to wish me a happy birthday. We spoke. I spoke to the president of Ukraine twice.”

According to the Kremlin, Putin phoned the Pope in December to congratulate him on his 85th birthday.

Pressed to say what his message to the Russian president would be today, the Pope answered: “The messages that I have given to all the authorities are those that I gave publicly. I don’t do doublespeak. I always say the same.”

He then went on to speak about just and unjust wars, reflecting on the Second World War, the United Nations, Mahatma Gandhi and his own appeal for peace in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

A Summit With Patriarch Kirill?

Pope Francis also told journalists that he was considering a face-to-face summit with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. 

The Pope said that the meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church could take place in the Middle East. It would be their second encounter since their historic meeting at Havana airport in Cuba in 2016. 

The Pope and the patriarch discussed the conflict during a video conference call on March 16.

Patriarch Kirill, who is considered close to Putin, has faced widespread criticism for his stance on the Ukraine war. 

He has received appeals from Catholic bishops across Europe to speak out against the invasion.

Among those who have called on him to intervene to end the war are Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Irish bishops and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).

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