Below, left to right: Russian opera singer Svetlana Kasyan, her daughter Natalia, her husband, a Russian from Rostov-on-Don, Leonid Sevastianov, 44, and Pope Francis, 86, in the Domus Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives, in November 2013 (they have met on eight different occasions)
Below, a hand-written note in Italian, dated May 5, 2022, from Pope Francis to Leonid and Svetlana, where Pope Francis thanks them for their “attitude of peace” adding “we Christians must be ambassadors of peace, carrying out peace, preaching peace, living in peace” and saying “thank you for all that you do in this regard” (link)
Letter #52, 2023 Wednesday, February 22: Ceasefire
Pope Francis appealed today, on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, for a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine as the 1st anniversary of the war, which began on February 24, 2022, approaches (link; the appeal is in Italian at the bottom of the page).
The Pope has appealed publicly for peace on more than 100 occasions since the start of the war.
Below is the full text of what Francis said, followed by a Reuters report on the appeal.
Following that, two curious articles which may or may not have something important to do with this terrible war, which now threatens to expand further:
1) from Tass, the Russian news agency, two days ago, February 20, about the claim that Pope Francis has told a relatively young Russian “Old Russian Orthodox Believer” named Leonid Sevastianov that he would like to visit… the world-famous leopard preserve in Russia’s far eastern Siberia(!)
2) from Il Sismografo, an influential news aggregator in Rome read by nearly all Vatican journalists, this morning, on this same curious story of alleged direct contacts between Francis and Sevastianov
An unusual friendship between a Pope and a Russian
The Pope first met Sevastianov in November 2013 in the Domus Santa Marta.
I was present at that meeting.
Our Urbi et Orbi Foundation had been organizing a concert to honor Pope Francis for his live televised, day-long public “Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria” on September 7, 2013, in St. Peter’s Square. (Francis spent hours in prayer in the Square that day.)
The concert was held two months later, on November 12, 2013, and the lead singer was Sevastianov’s wife, Russian opera soprano Svetlana Kasyan.
We were all invited to stay in the Domus Santa Marta.
We invited the Pope to attend the concert on the evening of the 12th, but the Pope declined, instead sending his personal secretary, Monsignor Fabian Pedacchio. He did attend the concert.
Pope Francis the next day expressed the desire to meet the Russian soprano, and greeted Leonid and Svetlana.
A friendship was born.
On several occasions in the succeeding years, the two have stayed in the Domus Santa Marta when visiting Rome, sometimes along with their young daughter, Natalia.
So it is a fact that the Pope knows Sevastianov.
(Here are three links to articles about Sevastianov, link, link, and link).
But many journalists are skeptical about the claim that Pope Francis is actually in regular contact with Sevastianov.
Sevastianov told me yesterday that a considerable part of the communications are personal in nature, as ordinary messages between friends, but they also contain expressions of the Pope’s desire to visit Russia, of his desire for the war to end, of his desire for peace.
Two days ago in Russia, the Russian news agency Tass reported Sevastianov had said that the Pope wishes to visit Russia later this year (if such a visit could be arranged) to see… a world-famous Siberian leopard preserve.(!)
Then this morning, in Rome, Luis Badilla, editor of Il Sismografo, wrote a long piece treating the entire matter as some sort of bizarre joke, adding that, if the Vatican is actually resorting to “parallel channels” like Sevastianov to conduct diplomacy, it should be the cause of… weeping.(!)
I asked Sevastianov if it is true that the Pope would like to see the leopards in Siberia.
“Yes,” he said. “It is also a peace gesture of Pope. While tanks called leopards are on the battle field, the Pope wants to go to real leopards.”
Sevastianov last year explained what he thinks the Pope could possibly accomplish.
“I think there is no other alternative (than the Vatican) for peace, not only for Ukraine but for the whole world,” Sevastianov said. “Indeed, after the Second World War, we did not create an institution that preserved us from war [Note: in other words, the UN did not accomplish this task]. When we base our relations only on economics, war always breaks out in the end. We must create a new institution based on faith. There is only one institution, one state, that has always been neutral and opposed to war: the Vatican.”
So what Sevastianov is actually proposing is a new faith-based global institution which would play the necessary peace-keeping role in human affairs that the secularized UN has, regrettably, failed to play.
The Vatican has neither confirmed nor denied the contacts between the two, or the content of the messages between them. —RM
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