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Pope Francis invited by Kyiv mayor to visit as sign of solidarity, witness for peace

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Mayor Vitali Klitschkoof Kyiv, Ukraine, visits a checkpoint of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces March 6, 2022. Klitschko has invited Pope Francis and other religious leaders to come to the city and witness for peace. (CNS photo/Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)

VATICAN CITYMayor Vitali Klitschko of Kyiv, Ukraine’s besieged capital, has invited Pope Francis and other religious leaders to come to the city and witness for peace.

“The Holy Father has received the letter from the mayor of the Ukrainian capital and is close to the suffering of the city, its people, those who had to flee from it and those who are called to administer it,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

“He prays to the Lord that they will be protected from violence,” Bruni said March 15, adding that the pope repeats his call for an end to “the unacceptable armed aggression before it reduces cities to cemeteries.”

In a letter to the pope dated March 8, Klitschko said, “We believe that the world religious leaders’ presence in person in Kyiv is key for saving lives and paving the path to peace in our city, country and beyond.”

The mayor offered “help on whatever might be needed” to get the pope to Kyiv, and said, “if a journey to Kyiv is not possible, we kindly ask for a joint video conference to be recorded or broadcast live,” including with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“We appeal to you, as a spiritual leader, to show your compassion, to stand with the Ukrainian people by jointly spreading the call for peace,” the letter said.

Klitschko wrote to the pope three days after appealing in a video on Twitter for religious leaders to come to the beleaguered city.

He mentioned by name Pope Francis; Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, an authority for Sunni Muslims around the world; the Dalai Lama; Rabbi David Baruch Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel; and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who has supported the war.

“What is happening in the heart of Europe touches the heart of all the inhabitants of our planet who love justice and values of goodness regardless of their region or religion,” Klitschko said, which was why he was calling “the world’s spiritual leaders to take a stand.”

The mayor asked the leaders to “come to Kyiv and show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, to show their compassion and to join together in a spirit of harmony that my country and the whole world needs.”

“Let us make Kyiv the capital of humanity, spirituality and peace,” he said in the video.