St. Louis, Mo., Sep 18, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).
The meeting, during which Soltanovsky presented his credential letters to the pontiff, comes days after papal envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi visited Beijing to discuss efforts to bring about peace in Ukraine amid the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war.
The “atmosphere of the meeting was friendly” and the two men “discussed, in particular, the mission of the papal special envoy to Ukraine, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, aimed at solving a number of humanitarian issues,” Soltanovsky told Russia’s official Tass News Agency.
“We agreed to continue an honest and open dialogue with the Holy See, traditionally based on mutual respect,” Soltanovsky told Tass.
While serving as Pope Francis’ peace envoy, Zuppi has made several diplomatic visits across the world to promote peace between Russia and Ukraine, including stops in Kyiv, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. Zuppi has strong ties to Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay association that has been involved in peace negotiations in many countries. Zuppi’s mission does not have mediation as its immediate goal, however, the Vatican has said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sept. 15 that “the Vatican envoy [Zuppi] is going to come again” and Moscow will “welcome him.” The Vatican has not yet confirmed Zuppi’s trip.
Pope Francis met with outgoing Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev when the pontiff paid an unusual visit to the Russian embassy on Feb. 25, 2022, the day after Russia’s full-scale invasion began. The Vatican said the pope went to the embassy “to show his concern for the war.”
Later, in September 2022, Pope Francis said he was involved in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, which involved calling Avdeyev “to see if something could be done, if an exchange of prisoners could be speeded up.”
Pope Francis has condemned the war and called for peace in Ukraine on numerous occasions, but has also occasionally received criticism from Ukrainians for the way he has expressed himself. Most recently, in August, the Vatican clarified that the pope did not intend to exalt Russian imperialism while speaking off the cuff during a live video conference with Russian youth on Aug. 25.
In the speech, Francis referenced “Mother Russia” and praised “the Great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that great enlightened empire.” President Vladimir Putin had previously compared himself to the 18th-century czar Peter the Great in justifying the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church responded with alarm, saying: “We hope that these words of the Holy Father were spoken spontaneously, without any attempt at historical evaluations, let alone support of Russia’s imperialist ambitions.”
The Vatican nunciature in Kyiv clarified that the words of the Roman pontiff are to be understood in the context of Pope Francis being “a staunch opponent and critic of any form of imperialism or colonialism across all peoples and situations.”
Russia and the Holy See restored full diplomatic relations in 2010 after maintaining limited diplomatic relations since 1990.