The Pope is the only person that truly wants peace

We propose an interview with Monsignor Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of Mother of God at Moscow, that appeared in the Journal La Voce del Popolo.

“The Pope is the only person that truly wants peace, and to this end, he doesn’t close any doors. I have strong doubts that on the part of the other actors directly or partially involved there is a real desire for peace. It is this fact, in my opinion, that is the biggest obstacle at the moment.” A year into the vast Russian military “operation” in Ukraine, which began the 24th of February 2022, it is Mons. Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop of Moscow and president of the Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation, to take stock and to give his perspective. “If there was at least a desire for peace, maybe we would be able to take a few steps in the direction of peace. I do not want to seem cynical or skeptical or too partisan in the favor of the Catholic Church, but the only person that truly believes in peace today is the Pope.”

Mons. Pezzi, you live in Moscow. How has Russia changed in the last year?
It has been changed by growing awareness of a conflict that from the margins has passed progressively to affect the daily life of the country. This has provoked a certain disorientation, and  makes you ask what really has value. It is true, instead, that we find people who are growing in conviction, but I would say that the state of mind that I notice is normally one of malaise.

On an economic level, what impact has the military engagement had?
Certainly, it has had its effect. You notice, for example, a decrease in the quality of food products.
Many companies that work in the clothing sector have left Russia, and it is much more difficult to import them. The cost of living has definitely gone up. This allows us to go out to dinner less often. The possibility to go on vacation has been drastically reduced or no longer exists. Tourism in Russia has completely collapsed. We’re talking about a fall of around 92-93 percent. In 2022, Russia was visited from abroad by no more than 8 percent of those who would come regularly. There were those who lamented the fact that funds destined for pensions went instead to military costs. It is also said that the financial control of companies has increased, always in line with the idea of collecting the taxes necessary to cover military costs. But this is the news that is circling, which I’m not in a position to confirm.

They say that around two hundred thousand Russian soldiers have died. What do they say about them in Russia?
In Russia, there isn’t much talk about it.
To begin with, there aren’t official tallies, at least that I’ve read. Therefore, the estimates go from a few tens of thousands to around a few hundred thousand. I couldn’t tell you which is exact. A fact remains: there are lots of victims. You don’t hear them mentioned often, if not to exult a few of the heroic actions carried out by a couple of soldiers. There aren’t many funerals, and generally they are very modest, without much emphasis, while I’ve noticed that in Ukraine every funeral is felt strongly with a large participation of the people.

Only forgiveness succeeds in healing the deepest wounds.

How is the fact that Russia is painted as the aggressor and is continually more isolated from the international context lived on a social level?
Paradoxically, it has had a boomerang effect. And this is the desired effect. It’s said that the reaction against Russia is disproportionate, and that, in the end, it is the normal people that carry the burden, who thus have become the victim of a foreign conspiracy.

Is Patriarch Kirill also isolated with his positions in favor of President Putin and the war?
I would not say that he is isolated. Additionally, in the Orthodox world, there are many churches that have sustained the Russian Orthodox Church from the beginning. Regarding the conflict, there is –and this is true– there is more distance.

How is it possible to exit from this political and religious impasse that everyday makes the goal of peace more distant?
I think that in this moment, what is necessary is to not close any doors, to never shut out dialogue. In this sense, I think that to refuse the possibility of an encounter and a dialogue would be wrong. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely embrace the other’s positions or stay silent. But it seems to me that to refuse an encounter a priori, at any level, doesn’t do anything but increase the distance.

How will it end?
It will end well, because we are all in the hands of God, and we cannot ever forget this. God has permitted many tragic events in the story of man. He permitted the annihilation of the chosen people of Israel. He allowed deportations to happen. But God has continued to move history. But He doesn’t move it like a puppet master. God moves history out of love. It is necessary to enter into this logic. Then, surely you can say –and not sentimentally, not as a simple slogan– that God if allows something, it is only for a greater good. This is the reason that even today I can say with sincere faith and hope that all will end well.

But are the Russian Catholics and Ukrainian Catholics, children of the same Church, willing to shake hands and create a little bridge of peace between their two countries?
I believe so because it’s already happening. For example, in Prague, we met together for the continental phase of the synod. I was struck by the ease which there was in the relationship between the bishops and the lay people of the two countries. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that one doesn’t struggle or that there aren’t diverse approaches and opinions. But I was truly struck by the fact that being children of the same Father is not just a pretty phrase.

What can be their contribution to the difficult cause for peace?
Forgiveness. I will never tire of saying it. It is the discovery that we made on the 25th of February of last year, and I haven’t gone a day without saying it. If we can’t forgive, even on a battlefield, we will carry the wounds for all our life. Only forgiveness succeeds in healing the deepest wounds.

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