Pope Francis says the Vatican is engaged in a peace mission toward ending the war between Russian in Ukraine. This includes a plan on the table to repatriate Ukrainian children who were evacuated to Russia or who are now in Russian-occupied territory. However, the details of the efforts thus far are 'secret'.
"There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it," the pope explained to reporters on his jet while en route to Rome following a three-day visit to Hungary.
"I think that peace is always made by opening channels. You can never achieve peace through closure. ... This is not easy," he said.
His trip centered on a rare sit-down meeting which mulled options for peaceful settlement and other war-related issues with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Metropolitan (bishop) Hilarion, who represents the Russian Orthodox Church in Budapest.
"In these meetings we did not just talk about Little Red Riding Hood. We spoke of all these things. Everyone is interested in the road to peace," Francis told reporters.
"The Holy See is willing to do this (help repatriate the children) because it is the right thing," Francis said on the plane. "All human gestures help but gestures of cruelty don't help. We have to do all that is humanly possible".
The Pope has from the start of the conflict repeatedly offered to mediate peace between the warring parties. He has also at times caused some degree of frustration and embarrassment among the Western allies for giving controversial public takes, most notably when he said NATO likely provoked Russia's invasion.
For example, last May the 86-year old pontiff told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that "the barking of NATO at the gates of Russia" is likely what motivated Putin to attack Ukraine. He has also cast the international weapons transfers to Kiev in a very negative light, saying that those large powers fueling the conflict with such weaponry do not seem interested in peace, but that it benefits the greedy and powerful defense industry.
Pope Francis calls on Hungarians to "open doors" to migrants.— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 1, 2023
His comments stand in stark contrast to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who, while welcoming Ukrainian refugees, has otherwise espoused anti-migration rhetoric to defend a "Christian Europe" https://t.co/vPBg0tlwhV pic.twitter.com/Vf5EqhaXGf
China too has of late pushed its own peace plan - and despite both sides greeting Beijing's efforts positively - this has so far not resulted in any concrete move toward the negotiating table or ceasefire. There hasn't been any meaningful attempt of the two sides to directly engage in dialogue in over a year.