Pope Francis gives Ukrainian President sculpture of olive branch

Pope Francis receives in private audience Volodymir Zelensky, President of Ukraine. Zelensky is in Rome where he has met with the Italian Premiere, Giorgia Meloni, and with President Sergio Mattarella.

By Linda Bordoni

Volodymir Zelensky’s car was escorted into the Vatican just minutes after 4 pm local time on Saturday, and the Ukrainian President was welcomed into the Apostolic Palace for his meeting with Pope Francis.

“It’s a great honour,” Zelensky said to the Pope who thanked him for his visit.

The two leaders spent time in conversation aided by a translator, Fr Marko Gongalo, a Polish priest who works at the Secretariat of State.

Pope Francis and President Zelensky
Pope Francis and President Zelensky

The meeting, which lasted some 40 minutes, focused on the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine following the ongoing war.

The Holy Father assured the President of his constant prayers, as witnessed by his numerous public appeals and invocations to the Lord for peace.

They agreed on the ongoing requirement to continue providing humanitarian aid to the population, and the Pope highlighted, in particular, the need for "gestures of humanity" towards the most fragile, the innocent victims of the conflict."

Exchange of gifts

As is customary, the two leaders exchanged gifts.

Pope Francis gave President Zelensky a bronze sculpture representing an olive branch, a symbol of peace. He also gifted him with the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together penned by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Ahzar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb; a book on the Statio Orbis of 27 March 2020 and a volume entitled “An Encyclical on Peace in Ukraine.”

On his part, the Ukrainian President brought the Holy Father a work of art crafted from a bulletproof plate and a painting entitled “Loss” on the killing of children during conflict.

One of the Pope's gifts to President Zelensky
One of the Pope's gifts to President Zelensky

Almost 15 months from Moscow‘s attack on Kyiv, the afternoon visit in the Vatican took place within a diplomatic tour on the part of the Ukrainian leader who met with Italy‘s President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday morning before a working lunch with the Premiere, Giorgia Meloni.

Pope Francis and President Zelensky in the Vatican
Pope Francis and President Zelensky in the Vatican

Meeting with Archbishop Gallagher

A communiqué released by the Holy See Press Office said that following his meeting with the Pope, President Zelensky subsequently met with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations of the Secretariat of State.

"During the cordial talks with H.E. Archbishop Gallagher, the focus was first of all on the current war in Ukraine and the urgent concerns associated with it, particularly those of humanitarian nature, as well as on the need to continue efforts to achieve peace," the statement said, adding that "The occasion was also propitious to discuss a number of bilateral issues, especially concerning the life of the Catholic Church in the country."

Archbishop Gallagher and President Zelensky
Archbishop Gallagher and President Zelensky

Second meeting between the Pope and Zelensky

It is the second meeting between Pope Francis and the Ukrainian President who came to Rome briefly on 8 February 2020 and was received by the Pontiff in the Apostolic Palace, before Russia’s full-out invasion of Ukraine.

On that occasion, which took place less than a year after Zelensky’s electoral victory, the Pope had gifted the President with a medal depicting San Martin de Tours and expressed his hope that the saint may protect the Ukrainian people who were already suffering war in the eastern regions of the country.

Zelensky also held talks with Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin and with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations.

A Holy See Press Office statement on that occasion said the talks focused on the humanitarian situation and the quest for peace within the context of the conflict affecting Ukraine since 2014.

Hope had been expressed, on that occasion, that all the Parties involved would show utmost sensitivity to the needs of the population affected by the violence and a “commitment and coherence in dialogue.“ 

Telephone calls

Since the Russian attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, a number of telephone calls have taken place between Pope Francis and President Zelensky.

The first occurred on 26 February 2022, two days after the beginning of the war. On that occasion, Pope Francis told the President of his “deep sorrow for the tragic events taking place in his country.“

Other telephone calls between the Pope and the Ukrainian President took place in March and in August 2022, in which the Pope reiterated his concern and sorrow for the suffering of the people and Zelensky

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13 May 2023, 15:34