Mayor of Kyiv makes plea for visit by Pope Francis, calling it ‘key for saving lives’

Mayor Vitali Klitschko called on the pope ‘to stand with the Ukrainian people by jointly spreading the call for peace.’

Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv mayor and former heavyweight champion, left, visits a checkpoint in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — The mayor of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital under bombardment by Russian forces, invited Pope Francis to visit the city in a letter sent last week, saying the pontiff’s presence “is key for saving lives and paving the path to peace.”

The letter from Mayor Vitali Klitschko, dated March 8, offers to help the pope go to Kyiv while recognizing that the journey may be impossible. The letter also offers to hold a joint recorded or live videoconference with Francis. “Efforts will be made to include President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy on this call,” the letter said.

Klitschko concluded, “We appeal to you, as a spiritual leader, to show your compassion, to stand with the Ukrainian people by jointly spreading the call for peace.”

The Vatican confirmed receiving the letter in a statement sent to journalists on Tuesday (March 15). “The Holy Father received the letter by the mayor of the Ukrainian capital and is close to the suffering of the city,” including those who have fled and its political leaders, the Vatican said.

Before the war began, the pope had received several invitations from religious and political leaders in Ukraine, but the Vatican made no announcements about plans for a papal visit, nor has any conversation between the pope and Zelenskyy been made public.

Klitschko’s invitation seemed to be aimed at stopping the Russian army from firing. “They killed an American journalist, they shoot at churches and this is a genocide,” he told Vatican journalists in a phone call, apparently referring to Brent Renaud, a filmmaker and journalist who was shot Sunday near Kyiv. “My question is: And the pope?” Klitschko asked. 

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Kyiv has been a primary target of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine. Russian troops have been stalled in their advance on the city, but over the weekend fighting had reached the suburbs and residents have suffered heavy bombing.

Ukrainian leaders have made urgent personal appeals to corporations, individuals and other nations part of their strategy for surviving the war, with Zelenskyy appearing by video on both social media and in Britain’s House of Parliament and aides contacting Elon Musk and other company chiefs for assistance.

On Tuesday, the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic will meet with Zelenskyy in Kyiv to bring aid and show “the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine said in a statement on Tuesday: “Today once more I would like to address the mighty of this world: Do not be outside observers of the pain and sorrow of Ukraine! Don’t just watch on television how they are killing us! Do something! Let us do everything to stop this war which is today a wound for all of humanity.” 

While only 10% of Ukraine is Catholic, Francis has become an important voice for the Eastern Orthodox Christian majority as a prospective mediator between Russian Orthodox leaders and Orthodox communities that have become estranged from the Moscow patriarchate. After years of outreach to Patriarch Kirill, Francis has avoided calling out Russia and Putin by name when condemning the war, but he has been vocal about the need to end the violence.

“With pain in my heart I join my voice with that of common people who beg for an end to the war. In the name of God, may the scream of those who suffer be heard and may there be an end to the bombings and attacks!” Francis said during his Sunday prayer service in Rome.

“In the name of God, I ask you: End this massacre!” he added.

RELATED: Ukraine offers a middle path between just war and pacifism

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