The prime minister of the government of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatseniuk, along with a small entourage, was received by Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on April 26, a Saturday. Mr. Yatseniuk later met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dom­inique Mamberti.

Arseniy Yatseniuk and Pope Francis.

Arseniy Yatseniuk and Pope Francis.

During the cordial talks, which took place in the context of the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Ukraine, the current situation was discussed, with the hope that all interested parties would work together constructively for the restoration of political and social stability of the country, within the scope of international law, and that they would promote understanding among the peoples of the region. The specific role of churches and religious organizations, and of individual believers in fostering mutual respect and harmony among all sections of society, was also noted. Finally, possible further action by the international community was mentioned.

The Prime Minister then traveled to the Basilica of St. Sophia on the Via Boccea, built by Ukrainian Confessor of the Faith, Cardinal Yosyf Slipyi (+1984), who had been condemned by Joseph Stalin in 1945 to 18 years in a gulag. Slipyi was named a cardinal “in pectore” (in secret) by John XXIII a few years before the former’s release in 1963. At St. Sophia’s, Yatseniuk participated in a prayer for Ukraine and met the local Ukrainian community.

Yatseniuk came to Rome to represent Ukraine at the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, but escalating Ukrainian-Russian tensions prompted him to return home instead of staying for the canonization ceremony on Sunday. The Ukrainian delegation included Foreign Minister Andrii Deschytsya and Andrii Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, a city which St. John Paul II visited during his 2001 trip to Ukraine.

Yatseniuk spent 18 minutes behind closed doors with the Pope, who had urged the international community to “prevent violence” in Ukraine in his Easter Sunday message. At an exchange of gifts, Yatseniuk presented Francis with a photograph of Maidan Square in Kyiv on New Year’s night. “This is where Ukrainians fought for their freedom and rights. Millions of people,” he said.

The Pope in return gave the Ukraine leader a pen, saying, “I hope this pen will sign the peace,” to which Yatseniuk replied, “I hope so.” He then asked the Pope to pray for Ukraine and do everything within his power to bring peace and stability to Europe.

—Text from Vatican Radio 

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