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Biden discusses war, humanitarian concerns in Ukraine with Pope Francis’ envoy

Repatriating Ukrainian children topped papal envoy’s agenda for meeting with Biden July 18

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met July 18 with Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Pope Francis’ special envoy, to seek a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Cardinal Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, Italy, and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, was being accompanied by an official from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the Vatican said. His visit to Washington follows previous visits to Kyiv and Moscow as a special envoy on behalf of the Holy See.

A White House readout of the closed-press meeting said Biden “shared his wishes for Pope Francis’s continued ministry and global leadership and welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. archbishop as cardinal.”

“They also discussed the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children,” the readout said.

The overall objective of the July 18 meeting was “to contribute to peace and more precisely to cover the humanitarian aspects, in particular concerning children. The discussion revolved around this,” Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told the Italian daily, La Repubblica.

When asked if this meant that the immediate goal was facilitating the reunification of Ukrainian children with their families, the cardinal-designate said, “Yes, that is the cardinal’s, and obviously the pope’s, more specific goal, also because it is a more concrete issue.”

“Obviously, however, the idea is to think about peace, in the complicated context that exists,” he said in the interview, published in Italian July 19.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a July 17 press briefing that Cardinal Zuppi “is coming at the specific request and as an envoy of the pope to have discussions here about the war in Ukraine, about — specifically about humanitarian concerns in Ukraine.”

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said, “I hope and pray that Cardinal Zuppi’s conversations in Washington will promote and contribute to a just peace and convince (Russia’s President Vladimir) Putin to stop the invasion and pull back his army from the occupied territory.”

Ukraine’s government claims that Russia has forcibly deported close to 19,600 Ukrainian children, in violation of Article II(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Of those, 494 have been killed and only 358 returned to date.

An investigation published July 17 by The Telegraph revealed approximately 2,150 Ukrainian children are currently in “re-education” camps in Belarus, Russia’s ally, subject to beatings and Russian indoctrination, with some children trained to use weapons.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.

The ICC charged the two with the war crimes of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

The crimes were allegedly committed in occupied Ukrainian territory since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, continuing attacks it had begun in 2014.

According to Ukraine government officials, more than 98,600 war crimes by Russian forces have been documented in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.

Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Zuppi in June as his envoy to promote peaceful dialogue amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Holy See Press Office said in a statement that Cardinal Zuppi’s visit to Washington will “promote peace in Ukraine.”

“It seeks to facilitate the exchange of ideas and opinions regarding the current tragic situation, as well as to provide support for humanitarian initiatives aimed at alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable people, particularly children,” the statement said.

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