Pope Francis “scolds” President Zelensky for thinking arms could lead to peace

The recent meeting between Ukrainian President Zelensky and Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday was widely recognized as a good opportunity for Ukraine to take steps toward peace with the Vatican’s help. However, Zelensky’s refusal to establish Pope Francis as a mediator in talks with Russia keeps stalling any meaningful progress.

The meeting between President Zelensky and Pope Francis held great significance, as it was seen as an opportunity for Kyiv to accredit the Pontiff as a mediator with Moscow. However, Zelensky's categorical rejection of the Pope's potential mediation role dashed the Vatican's hopes for progress. In Zelensky's view, it is difficult to find common ground when the “victim and aggressor are placed on the same level.”

As Pope Francis also reiterated during his apostolic journey to Hungary in April, the Vatican believes that the only way to put an end to the war is through dialogue, rather than supplying weapons to Ukraine and facilitating the endless killing that has ravaged Ukraine for almost 15 months.

According to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, Zelensky's rejection of mediation stems from Kyiv's steadfast insistence on three non-negotiable conditions for Moscow: the recovery of Ukrainian territorial integrity, the establishment of a special court to try Russia for war crimes, and the removal of Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence. Zelensky believes that achieving these goals is possible only through military victory, with unwavering support from Western powers.

While there is a clear, global majority that advocates for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks, including Hungary and the Holy See, U.S. and Western European arms shipments continue to stand in the way of making any significant progress toward peace. In the absence of additional European governments joining the peace camp, Pope Francis’ role has been relegated to prayers and humanitarian actions.

The Holy See and the Pontiff himself have been actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by the conflict in Ukraine. The Church has played a major role in bringing attention to the humanitarian crisis and facilitating the repatriation of Ukrainian children deported to Russia. However, without a concrete peace plan, the Pope's mission remains one of peace advocacy rather than direct negotiation.

As the failed meeting with Zelensky highlights the limitations of the Vatican's mediation efforts, attention turns to alternative diplomatic solutions. With President Erdogan's mediation proposal fading, Beijing's involvement emerges as a potential option.

Prime Minister Orbán and Foreign Minister Szijjártó have already signaled that Hungary welcomes China’s peace plan for Ukraine. During his recent trip to Beijing, FM Szijjártó said that Hungary appreciates the mere existence of such a plan, as, when it comes to Ukraine, generally everybody talks only about war.

However, seeing the Ukrainian president’s current mindset, I’d be surprised if he supported any proposal that doesn’t have “weapons” written all over it.