Papal envoy Zuppi heads for China on Ukraine peace mission

By Alvise Armellini

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Papal envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi will be in China from Wednesday to Friday this week as part of a diplomatic push to facilitate peace in Ukraine, the Vatican said, confirming Italian media reports.

“The visit represents a further stage in the mission desired by the Pope to support humanitarian initiatives and the search for paths that can lead to a just peace”, the Vatican said in a statement on Tuesday.

The cardinal already visited Kyiv and Moscow in June and travelled to Washington the following month as part of the Holy See’s attempts to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table.

Italian daily La Repubblica said Zuppi was likely to meet “top institutional leaders” in Beijing, including Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

The Vatican statement did not give details about his agenda.

Zuppi has said the initial focus of his mission is to help the repatriation of children that Ukraine says have been deported to Russia or Russian-held territories, rather than a full-scale mediation effort.

His trip to China takes place after a fresh bout of friction between Pope Francis and Kyiv was triggered by the pontiff’s recent praise of Russian tsars, which Ukraine interpreted as lauding Moscow’s imperialism.

Francis acknowledged his comments were badly phrased, telling reporters on Sept. 4 that his intention was to remind young Russians of a great cultural heritage and not a political one.

Nevertheless Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told Ukrainian media last week that the pope’s “pro-Russia stance” disqualified him from acting as a would-be peacemaker.

Zuppi, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has experience as a mediator, having helped broker a 1992 peace deal in Mozambique through the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic peace and justice group.

(Additional reporting by Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Gavin Jones and David Gregorio)