Dmytro Kuleba speaks to journalists in Kyiv (credit: Marcin Mazur) Dmytro Kuleba speaks to journalists in Kyiv (credit: Marcin Mazur) 

Ukraine’s foreign minister: Pope’s tears and words mean a lot to us

Following Pope Francis’ unexpected tears as he prayed for Ukraine, the country’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tells Vatican News that the Pope offers a much-needed symbol of spiritual support and says the time for peace talks with Russia has not yet arrived.

By Salvatore Cernuzio – Kyiv, Ukraine

"This compassion means a lot to us and goes directly to the hearts of Ukrainians, and of course we look forward to his visit."

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba offered that comment to Vatican News regarding Pope Francis' public expression of emotion at a prayer on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December, at Rome’s Spanish Steps.

As he brought the suffering of the people of Ukraine to the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pope interrupted his words for a few seconds to weep silently before continuing his prayer.

Mr. Kuleba, in office since 2020, met at the Foreign Ministry’s office in Kyiv with a group of journalists traveling since 4 December with the Embassies to the Holy See of Poland and Ukraine.

Pope prays for Ukraine on Thursday

A possible visit by the Pope

Mr. Kuleba answered questions from various reporters, including Vatican News, beginning with the possibility of a visit by Pope Francis to what the Pope has always called the "martyred nation" of Ukraine.

"He has many followers here, in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Greek Catholic Church, but even beyond who would welcome the Pope's visit, including a much wider part of Ukrainian society, not only those who belong to the Greek Catholic Church, because he is a symbol of compassion and spiritual support,” said Mr. Kuleba. “We look forward to welcoming him.”

However, he said that on some occasions he did not understand the perspectives expressed by the Pope regarding the ongoing war but praised him "for his understanding", which he said was a result of the "many conversations he had with people.”

“He has not allowed himself to be influenced by concepts that do not work and do not respond to reality, but is always committed to seeking the truth,” he added.

Mr. Kuleba during the interview in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry headquarters
Mr. Kuleba during the interview in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry headquarters

Relations with the Holy See

Mr. Kuleba then recalled his meeting in early December with his Vatican counterpart, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, at the 29th meeting of the Council of Ministers and the OSCE in Łódź, Poland.

"We had a very intensive conversation on bilateral relations between Ukraine and the Holy See,” he said. “War-related issues have the highest priority.”

And he reiterated his commitment to want to work with the Vatican for peace.

The minister, however, sought to clarify several issues that should be avoided, calling them "mistakes" that can lead to false narratives. He mentioned the concept of "brotherhood" between Russians and Ukrainians, saying we “must always remember that Russia is the aggressor and Ukraine is the victim of aggression."

Pope’s Angelus appeal on 2 October

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister said he particularly appreciated that Pope Francis dedicated his entire Angelus on 2 October to the war, appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war as soon as possible.

However, he said, the fact that the Pope simultaneously called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be open to a serious peace proposal could, according to the Ukrainian minister, create doubt that Zelensky is not open to peace.

A "serious peace proposal," he added, "is based on Ukraine's territorial integrity."

The minister in conversation with journalists
The minister in conversation with journalists

Religious rifts

The interview then shifted to the "great rifts," as he put it, that the invasion of Ukraine has caused within the religious spheres of the two countries, both between Catholics and Orthodox Christians and between Jews and Muslims.

Mr. Kuleba reiterated the great contribution of insight and support that faith itself can offer people at such a dramatic time.

"The perspectives of the confessions are first of all to console people, to help them spiritually,” he said. “It is a fact that most people turn to God only in times of trouble, but when everything is going well, they forget about God. Now in society there is a greater demand for spiritual help."

He said it is "unacceptable" for priests to bless the war, calling for more coordination "to empower people" to "console and comfort those who are suffering."

‘This is not the time for mediation’

Turning to the topic of peace talks, Mr. Kuleba said the war “has shattered many foundations of the global political order."

Regarding various offers of mediation between Russia and Ukraine since 24 February, Mr. Kuleba said: "The sad truth is that the time for broad mediation has not yet come."

He offered the example of the approximately "one hundred missiles fired every week to destroy infrastructure", as well as the soldiers that continue to arrive in the Donbas region and the violence against civilians.

"You don't do all these things when you are looking for a peaceful solution,” said Mr. Kuleba. “The day of a great mediation will come, but we are not there yet, to our great regret".

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10 December 2022, 13:03