Pope Francis scrapped his plans to visit Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Israel out of concerns that the meeting could stir "confusion at this moment" as the war in Ukraine rages.

Francis was tight-lipped on specifics regarding why the meeting was scrapped or whether it would be rescheduled when he told Argentine newspaper La Nacion about the cancellation in a recent interview. The two religious leaders have been at odds over Russia's bloody invasion.


"Our diplomacy understood that a meeting of the two at this time could lead to much confusion. I always promoted interreligious dialogue," Francis told the newspaper, according to a Google translation. "As you have heard from me many times, for me, agreement is superior to conflict."

Francis, 85, has been planning to travel to Lebanon from June 12 to June 13 and was in the advanced stages of plans to extend the trip to see Kirill, 75, in Israel, Reuters reported. The religious heavyweights previously held a video call last month, which the pope used to emphasize the importance of achieving peace in Ukraine.

“There was a time, even in our Churches, when people spoke of a holy war or a just war. Today we cannot speak in this manner. A Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed," he said, according to Vatican News. "We must unite in the effort to aid peace, to help those who suffer, to seek ways of peace, and to stop the fire."

Francis has voiced fierce opposition to the invasion, decrying it as a "cruel and senseless war" during his Easter sermon. Meanwhile, Kirill has backed the war effort and described Ukrainian resistance fighters as "evil forces."

"We absolutely do not strive for war or to do anything that could harm others," Kirill said during a sermon earlier this month, per Reuters. "But we have been raised throughout our history to love our fatherland. And we will be ready to protect it, as only Russians can defend their country."

His vocal support of the offensive and loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin has made him a controversial figure in religious circles. Some religious observers have advocated the World Council of Churches, which includes 352 churches across 120 countries, to oust him from the fellowship, though the organization appears unwilling.

Kirill and Francis have only met once in person since becoming the head of their respective churches. The meeting took place in 2016 in Havana and marked the first time leaders from the two churches held a summit since the great Great Schism in Christianity in 1054.


While Francis has been very sharp in his criticism of the war, he has refrained from chastising Putin by name. He defended this posture in the interview with La Nacion and also explained why he has not yet traveled to Kyiv — a move he said was "on the table" earlier this month.

"A pope never names a head of state, much less a country, which is superior to its head of state," he said, according to a Google translation. "I cannot do anything that puts higher objectives at risk, which are the end of the war, a truce, or at least a humanitarian corridor. What good would it do for the Pope to go to Kyiv if the war continued the next day?"