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Pope Francis meets with Russian ambassador to the Vatican

Pope Francis meets with Russian ambassador to the Vatican

By Jonah McKeown

Pope Francis on June 22 met with Ivan Soltanovsky, Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See, in their first meeting since Soltanovsky presented his diplomatic letters to the pontiff last September. 

Soltanovsky, a 69-year-old career diplomat, was appointed to his current role in May 2023. No details of the pair’s most recent meeting have yet been released. 

Soltanovsky told Russia’s official Tass News Agency earlier this month that the Holy See remains one of the few global players who favor diplomacy, peace, and dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration of interests.

“In a situation where traditional methods of building peace no longer work, the Vatican has tirelessly been looking for new ways and opportunities and is willing, as Pope Francis said, to ‘think out of the box,’” the Russian diplomat told Tass. 

Pope Francis has condemned Russia’s war of aggression and called for peace in Ukraine on numerous occasions but has also occasionally received criticism from Ukrainians for the way he has expressed himself. He has offered to act as a mediator between the two countries.

Pope Francis paid an unusual visit to Soltanovsky’s predecessor, Aleksandr Avdeyev, at 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.”

In mid-2023, ahead of Soltanovsky’s appointment, Pope Francis asked Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi to serve as a papal envoy to “initiate paths of peace” between Russia and Ukraine. Zuppi has since made several diplomatic visits across the world to promote peace between Russia and Ukraine, including stops in Kyiv, UkraineMoscow; and Washington, D.C. 

In recent weeks, prominent Vatican officials have reaffirmed the pope’s desire to maintain communication with both Russia and Ukraine. Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said the Holy See is greatly concerned about the tragic humanitarian consequences of the war “and is especially committed to facilitating the repatriation of children and encouraging the release of prisoners, especially seriously wounded soldiers and civilians.”

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