One year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, spoke with Vatican Media about the diplomatic action of the Holy See working to put an end to this terrible war. Behind this action, he said, is the “initiative of the Holy Father” with his repeated “appeals for peace in Ukraine”.
We always try to remind people of the “atrocity, the brutality of this war”, the Archbishop said, and to be open to the hope of a “future negotiation” that may lead to peace.
Recalling his visit to Ukraine last May, which he said, “profoundly changed” him, he explained that the Apostolic Nuncio’s decision to stay in Kyiv despite the war indicates the desire to share the suffering of the people of Ukraine, a decision that is part of the very nature of the Holy See’s diplomacy.
Vatican News: Your Excellency, the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation began on 24 February last year. The war does not appear to be stopping. In what ways is the Holy See’s diplomacy contributing to putting an end to this war and to bringing about peace?
Archbishop Gallagher: The diplomacy of the Holy See is guided and sustained above all by the Holy Father’s initiative. It is he who continues to reiterate his appeals for peace in Ukraine, in his prayers and in his talks, both in the General Audiences and in the Marian prayer of the Angelus every Sunday. And we follow his lead. We try to always keep in mind, as many others are doing, the atrocity, the brutality of this war that continues to cost many victims, many dead, many wounded, scattered families. This is what we are trying to do, always keeping a certain openness towards the stakeholders, for a future negotiation that should put an end to this terrible war. I think that this is our role. Whereas for Ukraine itself and for many others it is difficult to speak of dialogue and peace, of reconciliation, this is something that the Church, the Holy See and the Holy Father can and should do, and this is fundamental: keeping the dream of peace in mind. We understand how difficult it is for many at this terrible time of suffering, to think about peace in these terms, but someone has to do so because in the end there will be a conclusion to this terrible war, and we hope that this end may come soon.
From the perspective of the Holy See’s diplomatic action, what elements make this war in Ukraine special with respect to other wars?
First of all, we have to mention that this is a war in Europe. After the experience of the Second World War, we Europeans thought that war would never again occur and now we see the reality. This is important. Moreover, it is a war between two countries that share a long history, many cultural aspects and, not least, the religious dimension. Therefore, this makes this war especially problematic. All wars are terrible, but this war puts us before a situation that is very difficult for everyone because, while recognizing the seriousness of Russia’s actions, we see that Russia is a very important country, a country with a long history, and in the end we have to rebuild peace, relations with this Russia, in the future. And this also makes the progression of the war particularly difficult.
You visited Ukraine in May of last year. What did this visit mean to you?
This had a profound impact on me. When one goes and touches the suffering of a people, when one sees them, as I saw in Bucha and in other cities, the facts, the truth of war, the people’s suffering, this cannot but have a very profound impact. Touching the wounds of these people, this changes you forever. It is not theoretical, a television news story. It is a truth, the suffering of a people. That’s how it was for me. The experience of being present there changed me profoundly, seeing the suffering, seeing also the courage of the people and also the complexity of the situation.
Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, is one of three diplomats who have remained in Kyiv to work since the first day of the war. How was this decision taken and what did it mean for the Holy See, that he, the Nuncio, remained there?
In reality, no decision was ever taken; it was spontaneous. We are all very proud of Monsignor Visvaldas, who, together with his collaborators, is completing this mission with great courage, with great determination. This is part of the tradition of our diplomacy. Think also of Cardinal Zenari in Damascus, in Syria. He too remained there — now it has been more than 10 years, I think almost 12 years — despite this war in Syria. It is part of our tradition, because our commitment is not a, let’s say, political commitment, in the purely diplomatic sense; it is a commitment to a people, to a Church. And if at times, from a historical perspective, the nuncios have been expelled — for instance during the Second World War and also more recently — we don’t do these things voluntarily; it is something that happens. We can say that the idea to stay, sharing the people’s suffering, is part of our diplomacy. The Pope does not want to impose sacrifices and suffering upon people, but he wants this spirit of solidarity, this personal closeness of his, to be manifested through his representatives.
In your opinion, how can the Ukrainian people aspire to peace faced with this ongoing aggression, a peace which Pope Francis does not cease to invoke?
I have no doubt that all Ukrainians dream of peace; this is normal. When fathers and mothers look at their children, they hope that they will be able to grow up in a peaceful country. They must hold on to this dream, despite the suffering, despite the difficulties, despite the obviously strained relations with Russia and with Russians at this time. However, they too must preserve — perhaps even by remembering the years of freedom, the years of peace which that country experienced after its independence — they must look to the future with a certain optimism, already striving to think about the country’s reconstruction. There will be much to rebuild and reconcile in the country.