Vatican City (AFP), May 3 – Pope Francis said in an interview published Tuesday that he had requested a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, while comparing the scale of the bloodshed to the Rwandan genocide.
The pontiff told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that he sent a message to Putin about 20 days after the start of the conflict saying, “I was ready to go to Moscow.”
“We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting, although I am afraid that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this time,” Francis said.
“But how is it possible not to stop such brutality? Twenty-five years ago, we experienced the same thing with Rwanda,” he said.
Around 800,000 people were killed between April and July 1994 as the extremist Hutu regime tried to eliminate Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, in one of the biggest massacres of the 20th century.
The pope has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and denounced a “cruel and senseless war” without mentioning Putin or Moscow by name.
“I’m not going to kyiv at the moment. I feel like I shouldn’t go. I have to go to Moscow first, I have to meet Putin first,” he said.
Francis also said Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Putin, “cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”
Dialogue with the Orthodox Church, which separated from the Catholic Church in 1054, is a priority of Francis’ pontificate.
But since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the pope’s pleas for peace contrast with Kirill’s defense of Putin’s struggle against Russia’s “enemies external and internal”.
– Knee pain –
In the interview, the pope also spoke about knee pain that forced him to cancel various public engagements in recent months.
“I have a torn ligament, I will undergo an operation with infiltration, and we will see,” he said.
The Vatican would not say what the pontiff was receiving injections with or when, but a source told AFP that the ligament problem was linked to chronic arthritis in his right knee.
Infiltration can involve the injection of drugs directly into inflamed or damaged joints and has an immediate effect.
“I’ve been like this for a while, I can’t walk,” Francis told Corriere della Sera.
“Once upon a time, popes were carried on surrogate chairs,” he said, referring to the ancient shoulder-borne ceremonial throne on which popes were carried until 1978.
He seemed to rule out revival of the throne.
“A bit of pain, of humility, is necessary,” he said.
Francis told an Argentinian newspaper in April that he was treating the torn ligament by putting ice on it and taking painkillers.