President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Pope Francis in the Vatican for 40 minutes on May 13 during the Ukrainian leader's state visit to Italy, marking the first time Zelensky has met with the Pope since 2020.
Pope Francis reportedly gifted Zelensky a small olive branch sculpture that symbolizes peace, while Zelensky gave the pontiff an icon of the Virgin Mary painted onto a piece of body armor.
Zelensky soon typed off a statement thanking Pope Francis for his personal attention to "the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians." He said the Pope acknowledged the abduction of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children who have to be returned home.
Zelensky also asked the Pope to condemn Russia's war crimes, "as there cannot be equivalence between victim and aggressor." Finally, the president said Ukraine's peace formula is the only effective step by step plan to achieve peace and asked the Pope to join Ukraine in implementing it.
Pope Francis has previously said that the Vatican is ready to mediate for Ukraine and Russia but has shown signals that he doesn't see the invasion as a one-sided war of aggression. He said in March he believes the war is driven by multiple "empires" besides just Russia and stated his readiness to talk to Putin.
Yet Pope Francis also said that he's working on a secret mission to halt the war and return the children that Russia abducted from Ukraine.
Zelensky's visit to Rome also included visits with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella.
An Italian parliamentary intelligence oversight committee has said that Russia sought to conduct influence campaigns in Italy. The U.S. claimed that Russia spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence Italian elections, to try to reduce Europe's unity.
Right-wing politicians in Italy have made pro-Russian comments over the years, with Meloni sounding off positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2018 election win. Former leader Silvio Berlusconi knew Putin well and hung out with him, while Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has supported Russia and opposed military aid to Ukraine.
However, the ruling party, Brothers of Italy, has condemned the invasion and promised to send arms to Ukraine.