Pope speaks of secret peace ‘mission’ and help for Ukrainian children

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis revealed on Sunday that a secret peace “mission” in Russia’s war in Ukraine was underway, although he gave no details, and said that the Vatican was ready to help facilitate the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the war.

“I’m available to do anything,” Francis told an aerial press conference on the way back from Hungary. “There is a mission which is not public which is in progress; when it’s public, I’ll talk about it.

Francis gave no details when asked if he spoke about peace initiatives during his talks in Budapest over the weekend with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban or the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Hungary.

Deportations of Ukrainian children concern since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Francis said the Holy See has already helped mediate some prisoner exchanges and will do “everything humanly possible” to reunite the families.

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“All human gestures help. Acts of cruelty don’t help,” Francis said.

The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Children’s Commissioner, accusing them of war crimes for abducting children from Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrongdoing, saying the children were moved for their safety.

Last week Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal met with Francis at the Vatican and asked him to help with the return of Ukrainian children taken after the Russian invasion.

“I have asked His Holiness to help us bring home Ukrainians, Ukrainian children who are criminally detained, arrested and deported to Russia,” Shmyhal told the Foreign Press Association after the hearing.

Francis recalled that the Holy See had facilitated some prisoner exchanges, working through embassies, and was open to Ukraine’s request to reunite Ukrainian children with their families.

The prisoner exchanges “went well. I think it could be good for that too. It is important,” he said of the family reunifications. “The Holy See is available to do it because it is the right thing,” he added. “We must do everything humanly possible.”

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