Rome Newsroom, Aug 21, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).
Pope Francis had a private audience on Monday at the Vatican with U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Aug. 21 meeting took place in the pope’s study in the Apostolic Palace. Neither the Vatican nor the U.S. Department of Defense provided information about the audience.
Milley, a Catholic, is the U.S.’s highest-ranking military officer and the principal military adviser to the president, secretary of defense, and National Security Council.
Prior to becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2019, Milley was chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
At the Vatican meeting, Milley and Pope Francis exchanged gifts. Pope Francis blessed rosaries brought by the general and gave him a sculpture with the phrase, in Italian, “Peace is a fragile flower.”
Pope Francis blesses rosaries during his visit with U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a private audience at the Vatican on Aug. 21, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Milley’s wife of 38 years, Hollyanne Haas, was part of the general’s delegation, as was U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly.
As the top U.S. general, Milley has commented on the Russia-Ukraine War. According to Reuters, in July he said Ukraine’s counteroffensive was “far from a failure. I think that it’s way too early to make that kind of call.”
Milley told journalists: “I think there’s a lot of fighting left to go and I’ll stay with what we said before: This is going to be long. It’s going be hard. It’s going to be bloody.”
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a private audience at the Vatican on Aug. 21, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
On Aug. 17, the general spoke via telephone with the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
According to a statement from a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson, the two “discussed the unprovoked and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and exchanged perspectives and assessments. The chairman [Milley] reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The meeting between Pope Francis and Milley took place as the Vatican has embarked on a peace-building mission in Ukraine, headed by Italian Cardinal Mario Zuppi.
Zuppi, who has traveled to both Kyiv and Moscow, also visited Washington, D.C., for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in mid-July.
The Biden administration announced earlier this summer it was sending an additional $800 million in weapons to aid Ukraine’s counteroffensive — including morally problematic “cluster bombs” that have been banned by most countries, including the Holy See.