Days after Pope Francis bewildered the Ukrainian government with talk of a secret peace mission, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine arrived in Rome on Saturday for meetings with Francis and Italian officials, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Mr. Zelensky’s visit comes at a potentially pivotal moment in the war against Russia, as Ukrainian forces make advances near the key eastern city of Bakhmut ahead of a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The Vatican confirmed that Francis would meet with Mr. Zelensky on Saturday. The two met in Rome for an official visit in 2020 before the outbreak of the war, but Francis has declined various invitations from the Ukrainian government to meet Mr. Zelensky in Ukraine.
Francis has stated that, in his hopes of eventually playing the role of peacemaker, he wanted any visit to Ukraine to be in conjunction with a visit to Moscow, but President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has repeatedly made it clear that he wanted no such visit.
In recent weeks, the pope has sought to thrust himself into the discussion about a potential peace in Ukraine. On a flight back from Hungary last month, Francis talked cryptically about “a mission going on now, but it is not public yet” to bring peace, adding “when it is public I will talk about it.”
The Kremlin responded by saying it had no idea what the pope was talking about. And Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, said, “Ukraine doesn’t know about it.”
Mr. Zelensky did not leave Ukraine for the first 10 months of the war and his initial trips outside the country — including to Britain, France and the United States — were rare. In recent weeks, however, he has visited The Hague and Finland, and is expected to travel next to Germany.