May 3 (UPI) —Pope Francis says that he’s offered to travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to help bring an end to the fighting in Ukraine, but he hasn’t gotten any response from the Kremlin.
The pope detailed his request in an interview published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra on Tuesday.
Francis said that he sent the request via Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, in the middle of March. Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
“I asked Cardinal Parolin to convey my message to Putin, that I was ready to travel to Moscow,” he told the newspaper. “For sure, I was waiting for some kind of opening gesture from the Kremlin leader. We received no answer whatsoever, but we keep pressing them on this issue.
“I fear, however, that Putin cannot, or does not want to agree to our meeting at the moment. But how can you not try and do whatever you can to stop the atrocities? Twenty-five years ago we saw something similar happening in Rwanda.”
Relations between the Catholic Church and Russia have been strained for centuries after the Russian Orthodox Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century.
The pontiff also said that he’d hoped to work together with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, but was disappointed by the justifications for the war he heard during a virtual call in March.
In the interview, Pope Francis also seemed to imply that NATO is partly responsible for Russia’s aggressive campaign in Ukraine — by expanding eastward and “barking at Russia’s gate.”
Moscow has said several times that it views Eastern European nations joining the defensive alliance, such as Estonia and Latvia, as a threat to Russian security. Although not former Soviet republics, Sweden and Finland have also recently indicated a desire to join NATO and Ukraine has a working relationship with the group.
Pope Francis also said Tuesday that he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last month, and that the leader believed the war could end this month.
“When I met Orban, he told me that the Russians have a precise plan, and that the war will end on May 9,” he told the Italian newspaper. “I sure hope so.
“I have a bad feeling about it all. I’ll admit, I’m very pessimistic. However, it is our duty to do all we can to stop the war.”