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Pope hopes to send peace envoys to Kyiv, Moscow - report

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis hopes to send personal peace envoys to the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to try to broker a ceasefire in the war, a Catholic website reported on Thursday.

Il Sismografo, which specialises in Vatican news and has a good track record, said this is the "mission" Francis spoke of cryptically when he was returning from Hungary last month.

According to the website, the plan would be for Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna to go to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and for Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the head of the Vatican's department for Eastern Churches, to go to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin.

It said both presidents had agreed to meet with the papal envoys, without citing sources or giving details.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no comment on the report but pointed a reporter to recent comments by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin that "now is the moment to take the initiative to create a just peace in Ukraine".

Zuppi and Gugerotti could not be reached for comment and a key diplomatic source said nothing was yet "concrete".

If the envoys are sent, it would be identical to a gesture by the late Pope John Paul II, who in 2003 sent high-level representatives to Washington and Baghdad in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart the start of the Iraq War.

Zelenskiy met Pope Francis at the Vatican last Saturday but in comments afterwards he appeared to downplay the possibility of a papal mediation.

"With all due respect for His Holiness, we do not need mediators, we need a just peace ... Putin only kills. We don't need a mediation with him," Zelenskiy said on Italian television.

Returning from a trip to Hungary on April 30, Francis made an intriguing but puzzling comment about the Vatican being involved in a mission to try to end the war.

"There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it," he told reporters. Both Kyiv and Moscow said they know nothing about it at the time.

But the Vatican statement on the day of Zelenskiy's visit made no mention of any such mission and Zelenskiy said he asked the pope to back Kyiv's own peace plan, which calls for restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Christina Fincher)