ROME –Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s new mission as the pope’s designated trouble-shooter for Ukraine, confirmed by the Vatican over the weekend, not only raises the Italian prelate’s profile as a possible papal candidate, but it also puts a spotlight on his past success as a mediator.
In a statement Saturday, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that Pope Francis has chosen Zuppi to conduct “a mission, in agreement with the Secretariat of State, that will contribute to easing tensions in the conflict in Ukraine, in the hope, never resigned by the Holy Father, that this can start paths of peace.”
The timing and method of the mission “are currently under study,” Bruni said.
Reuters quoted a Vatican diplomat as saying that Zuppi will seek meetings with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the mission.
Currently the Archbishop of Bologna, Zuppi was given a red hat by Pope Francis in 2019 and last year was elected president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI).
Pope Francis first dropped an ambiguous hint about a Vatican peace mission on his return flight from Hungary April 31, saying at the time that “right now a mission is underway, but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it.”
Rumors began to spread last week that Zuppi would be involved in the peace mission, along with Italian Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Eastern Churches.
However, Gugerotti denied any knowledge or involvement in the mission. A statement from his dicastery last week said, “By now news of a peace mission entrusted to the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, has reached a wide international circulation.”
“We inform that the prefect knows nothing of what has been said about him,” the statement said.
In a statement late Saturday, CEI’s Secretary General, Archbishop Giuseppe Baturi of Cagliari, said the conference had welcomed the selection of Zuppi to lead the Ukraine peace mission “as a sign of great trust.”
They invited the Church in Italy, and especially monasteries in the country, to pray for Zuppi and for the mission, “so that it bears fruit and helps to build processes of reconciliation.”
Spokesman for the CEI Vincenzo Corrado said that given the delicate nature of Zuppi’s task, he will not be giving interviews or releasing any statements “until it is deemed appropriate, in agreement with the pope and the Holy See.”
The choice of Zuppi, who shares much of Pope Francis’s agenda and is already considered by many to be a frontrunner papabile, meaning a leading contender to be elected pope in the next conclave, sends a clear message of the trust Francis has in him and in his diplomatic prowess.
Prior to his episcopal career, Zuppi, a member of the Italy-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the pope’s favorite of the new movements which is dedicated to ecumenism and social justice, has assisted in previous international peace processes.
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This is the complete interview by Robert Benjamin with Margaret Shaw, filmed as part of Mediate.com's "The Mediators: Views from the Eye of the Storm" Series.By Margaret Shaw