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Papal envoy to discuss Ukraine with Biden on Washington visit

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Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis’ envoy and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), leads a mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, Russia June 29, 2023. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, assigned by Pope Francis to help bring peace to Ukraine, was heading to Washington on Monday to meet U.S. President Joe Biden and officials as a follow up to his talks in Kyiv and Moscow.

The three-day visit is aimed at promoting peace in Ukraine and supporting “humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the suffering of people who have been hit the hardest and the most fragile, in particular children,” a Vatican statement said.

Zuppi will meet Biden on Tuesday at the White House where they will discuss the suffering caused by the war, humanitarian aid and “the Papal See’s focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials,” the White House said in a statement.

The Kyiv government estimates nearly 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since February 2022, in what it condemns as illegal deportations.

Zuppi said earlier this month that he was working on a “mechanism” that could ensure the return of the children.

Last month, Zuppi visited Moscow, where he met with the head of Russia’s influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, and with Russia’s Children’s Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova.

Earlier in June, he visited Kyiv and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy, who met the pope in May, has asked the Vatican to back his unconditional peace plan, which he has said is not open to negotiation. Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and the plan calls for restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, and the restoration of Ukraine’s state borders.

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