Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is visiting Washington through Wednesday, a trip that follows his recent mission to Moscow and an earlier stop in Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Biden would meet with Zuppi on Tuesday to “discuss the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.”
In a statement, Jean-Pierre said they would also “discuss efforts by the United States and Holy See to provide humanitarian aid to those affected, and the Papal See’s focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials.”
Zuppi is a veteran of the Catholic Church’s peace initiatives and was tasked by Francis to try to find “paths of peace” between Russia and Ukraine.
In Moscow, Zuppi met with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, as well as Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has strongly supported the Kremlin’s war.
Francis has taken up Ukraine’s request to intervene where possible to return Ukrainian children transported to Russia following Moscow’s invasion.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in late March for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine. Russian officials have denied any forced adoptions, saying some Ukrainian children are in foster care.
Francis has said he hopes the Holy See can facilitate family reunifications, in the same way the Vatican stepped in to facilitate prisoner swaps.
In a statement Monday, the Vatican’s spokesman said Zuppi would travel to Washington with an official from the Vatican secretariat of state.
“The visit takes place in the context of the mission intended to promote peace in Ukraine and aims to exchange ideas and opinions on the tragic current situation and to support initiatives in the humanitarian sphere to alleviate the suffering of the most affected and fragile people, especially children,” the statement said.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the cardinal is coming “at the specific request” of Pope Francis. Kirby referred to “thousands and thousands of Ukrainian children that have been shipped off to basically concentration camps in Russia or Russian occupied territory.”
“We look forward to having those discussions,” he told reporters in Washington.
Francis has repeatedly called for an end to the war but has refrained from outwardly criticizing Moscow, part of the Vatican’s tradition of maintaining diplomatic neutrality in conflicts in hopes that it can play a behind-the-scenes role in forging peace.
He has irked the U.S. and its allies by repeating Moscow’s argument that NATO was “barking at its gates,” and seemingly making a moral equivalence between Ukrainian and Russian losses.
He has asserted Ukraine’s right to self-defense but has sharply criticized the weapons industry, saying the provision of arms to Ukraine by the West could be immoral “if it’s done with the intention of provoking more war or selling weapons or getting rid of old ones.”
Francis met with Biden, a Catholic, at the Vatican in 2021 and before that, during the pontiff’s 2015 visit to the U.S.
Miller reported from Washington.