During four years of war in Donbas Pope Francis spoke about Ukraine very often – he mentioned a lot of applications, appeals, wishes and suggestions, addressed to ordinary people as well as to people authorized to make decisions. The Pontiff hold number of meetings with leaders of countries and parliaments, where he also stressed situation in Ukraine. In June 2015 Pope Francis met with the president of Russia Volodymyr Putin and in December 2015 – with the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. After two years of war, when it became obvious that people in the occupied territories along the front line as well as in the grey zone need elementary aid, the leader of the Catholic church took the Initiative in his hands. In April 2016 he appealed to all Roman-Catholics of Europe to help Ukraine not just with prayers but also with material support. A sum collected exceeded all hopes: it made around 16 billion Euros, including 5 billion from the personal fund of the Pontiff.
Soon after that a Technical Secretariat of the “Pope for Ukraine” Action was founded, to distribute this financial aid. Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti (Vatican Ambassador to Ukraine) told “Obozrevatel” in an exclusive interview on the reasons of personal attitude of the Pope Francis to Ukraine, his view of settling the war in the east of Ukraine and prospects of his visit to Ukraine.
What is the main source of information about Ukraine for Pope Francis? The main source, of course, is institutional. In particular, there is an Apostolic Nunciature in Ukraine (Embassy of Vatican. – Red.), that prepares informational texts for him every time we have a chance. If needed, Nuncio meets Pope to give the larger picture. The same thing or done by different departments of the Roman Curia – each according to the specific expertise. Embassy of Ukraine by the Holy See (Vatican. – Red.), in its turn, also shares its thoughts and point of view of the government. Apart from this, Pope has a possibility to communicate with Catholic bishops (both Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic), when they write to him or come with visits, or sometimes even with non-Catholic bishops. He also meets groups or separate persons who turn to him with issues so sensitive for the country.
Nuncios in other countries together with State Secretariat are also providing information on Ukraine when they receive it from their appropriate sources of information. As we can see – it’s a very big and branched structure.
How often do you talk to Pope Francis? My communication with the Pope is constant: either through reports that I send to the State Secretariat or personally.
What questions does the Pope ask more often? In the Pope’s heart there is suffering of Ukrainian people and search for peace as well as search for ways how to help with it. He wants to know life stories that are often stories of the most humble and poor people. He doesn’t like ling conversations, especially when they seem rhetorical and not connected with certain reality. He feels very close with the situation between churches and, of course, with the life of Catholic communities. During our last recent meeting, Pope Francis asked me about the source of weapons for this war, expressing high dudgeon as for those who make money on selling weapons or any other instruments leading to death. Huge amounts of money are spent on weapons when it could be used for a good cause. It leads to new disasters and they, in its turn, will also need money. It’s a stupid and meaningless game. He is also very often interested in the situation with prisoners of war and their families as well as to every possible way how he can facilitate their release.
Does he find the “Pope for Ukraine” Action effective? Pope Francis wants to be constantly informed on the details of the “Pope for Ukraine” Action in order to see if it reaches its goal as well as to study new ways to provide suffering people with everything needed. This information is brought to him from bodies created for the distribution of the aid (at first from the Technical Committee and later – from the Technical Secretariat of the Action) as well as from the Apostolic Nunciature. Pope loves to repeat: “Aid is provided in order to help people. It’s always “at a sacrifice”. We are not looking for any payoff or rewards”.
Can we expect continuation of the initiative (additional whip-round, etc) or a new alike initiative? Since the end of the war is not yet visible. Pope is often thinking on how to continue the aid project, taking into account that 16 billion euros that were directed from the beginning are already almost completely exhausted. He asked us to think about it and prepare possible suggestions for him. I personally feel a little bit disappointed by the silence that this gesture of sympathy from Pope and numerous Catholics from Europe was covered in Ukraine and in the whole world. Of course, we did not expect any gratitude. We have just fulfilled our Christian duties. We wanted to give information on what would help Ukrainians feel less lonely, with the presence of Europe, something out of politics but what would greatly represent its best values.
How does the Pope see ways of settling war in Donbass region? In the opinion of the Pope, there is no other way for overcoming the conflict except a strong dialogue. A dialogue that respects truth. A dialogue interested first of all in dignity of every person, free from financial interests and not based on the weapons. A dialogue facilitating good deeds towards suffering people. A dialogue that values development of free and united society that undertakes responsibility for its life, aimed at the general good and not good of a few certain people. And first of all, a dialogue of a young generation interested in future as well as in limiting mass immigration which takes its place even though Ukraine was given by God so many resources. In order to have a real dialogue, we need to be ready for a mutual acceptance, be decent and not manipulators. This requires people inspired by high moral values which treat religion in a right wat and not to grow hatred that might affect so much. Some people might feel that speaking on the dialogue is a sign of weakness. However, in reality, the dialogue requires more efforts comparing to the strength of those who believes in victory brought by violence. Dialogue starts from the bright realization of what is good and what is bad, of realization who does good and who does evil. Relatively primitive are not just deeds of evil but also physical reaction on it. Isn’t it the same way as animals behave? A human being has mind to understand that destruction of evil does not mean destruction of other people but skills, supported by God, to lead other people through everything to the good or even a small particle of good but that will fill them on the inside enough to change lives. A dialogue is born from the belief that one can turn to good and what I, in particular, should do for that. And that is art created from realization of the fact that I am made of both – good and evil. So potentially, I am a monster and an angel. To kill would be my failure: it would mean I didn’t win fighting the evil inside my heart and thus, I killed heart, I pulled it out of another person. My goal, on the contrary, is to revoke inside of myself and any other person that good life which God gave us. This would be a real victory. A great ancient Roman writer Tacitus knew how darksome is killing of a person to achieve piece. Before the victory that destroys an enemy, Tacitus said: “They create desert and they call it peace”.
If Pope Francis was invited to enter “Norman format”, do you think he would accept it? As for the Norman format or any other format, I am sure that if Pope Francis was invited he wouldn’t step back, of course, having a deep respect for the Holy See which comes first before any personal interests or manipulations, and relying only on his nature of a person with moral standards.
Can we expect a visit to Ukraine from the Pontiff? Of course, the Pope would visit Ukraine with great pleasure. He knows and loves this country, its people and history of its suffers. An important requirement for his visit is a possibility to be an element of reunion, to facilitate growth of love and mutual understanding in the country and not to deepen division and confrontation. An ecumenical aspect has a very big meaning in this context.
Photo: L’Osservatore Romano