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Ukraine Bishop Says It Would Be ‘Disaster’ If Pope Visits Moscow Before Kyiv

Smoke rises from a destroyed building after a Russian military airstrike in Lysychansk, Ukraine, June 17, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Oleksandr Ratushniak, Reuters)

By Inés San Martín

ROME (Crux) — Not only would it be a “disaster” if Pope Francis visits Russia before going to Ukraine, as the pontiff has said he’d like to do, but should that happen, Ukrainian borders actually could be closed to Pope Francis, according to the Latin Archbishop of Lviv.

“Not only the Greek Catholic faithful but also we do not agree with all the gestures of the Holy Father towards Russia, but perhaps we do not understand his intentions and policy well,” said Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, who leads the 1.5 million-member Latin rite community in Ukraine.

“Let’s hope that the Pope has good intentions and, with his way of acting, will soon bring peace to Ukraine,” Archbishop Mokrzycki said.

Even before the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24, Pope Francis had been talking about a possible trip to “the martyred Ukraine.” Lately, however, he has expressed a desire to go to Moscow first to assist in the process of dialogue.

Speaking to the German weekly Die Tagespost, Archbishop Mokrzycki said that “our faithful say that one must first turn to the victim, to the one who suffers, and only then to the one who caused it.”

The prelate also said that while Ukrainians are very grateful to Pope Francis “for having been close to the people from the beginning with his prayers and many appeals,” they have not forgotten that, so far, Pope Francis has never clearly said that Russia is carrying out an invasion of Ukraine.

Archbishop Mokrzycki said that the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Ukrainians are puzzled by what they perceive as an ambiguous attitude of the pope and his actions aimed at keeping the doors of dialogue with Russia open.

Last March, Pope Francis revealed in an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper that he had asked to travel to Moscow to meet with Putin to ask him to stop the war in Ukraine, but has yet to receive a reply.

However, speaking to Reuters this month, Pope Francis revealed that the Kremlin had closed the door to this possibility when the Holy See first proposed it a few months ago, but now something might have changed.

“I would like to go (to Ukraine), and I wanted to go to Moscow first,” he said. “We exchanged messages about it because I thought that if the Russian president gave me a small window to serve the cause of peace” [it would be worth trying].

“Now it is possible, after coming back from Canada, it is possible that I will get to go to Ukraine,” he said. “The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”

Pope Francis will be in Canada from July 24-29.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, said in a recent interview that Pope Francis’ trip to Ukraine could be imminent, not ruling out a September foray.

“Pope Francis will definitely go to Ukraine,” he said, adding that the pope is “very convinced” that such a visit could have positive results.

Other than Canada, the only papal trip on the official schedule is Kazakhstan, Sept. 14-15. Pope Francis is going in order to participate in an interreligious meeting. Although the Vatican has not yet officially announced it, Pope Francis told Mexican news station Televisa that he hopes to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during this visit.

Despite his reservations regarding Pope Francis going to Moscow, Archbishop Mokrzycki said that the pontiff is welcome in Ukraine and that the local bishops — from the Latin and the Greek Catholic rites — have been inviting him for a visit for several years now.

“With the beginning of the war, this invitation became even more ardent because we believe that Peter of our time has a special gift and blessing that he has received from God,” said the president of the Ukrainian Roman Catholic bishops in a statement posted on the website of the archdiocese of Lviv during the weekend.

“If he came to Ukraine, if he entered this bloodied martyr’s land and blessed it, the Lord will grant us grace and work a miracle, and peace will come to our homeland,” Archbishop Mokrzycki said. “We are glad that the Holy Father has already expressed his will to come to Ukraine.”

Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s top diplomat to the Vatican, said that his government is currently working to make the pope’s sign of support a reality, which would be widely appreciated.

He recently told Crux, “I have many doubts that this [will] happen in August. Maybe September … however, it all depends on God’s will.”

“It’s not just a formal gesture, it’s a real gesture of support,” he said. “It’s a real gesture of understanding.”