VATICAN CITY - The mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has urged Pope Francis to travel to the city even in the current circumstances, saying his presence there was "key" to saving lives and achieving peace.
A letter by Vitaliy Klitschko to the pope followed earlier invitations by Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic leader and Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican.
In a statement, the Vatican confirmed that the pope had received the letter, which was dated March 8. It said the pope was praying for Ukrainians but made no mention of the invitation or a trip.
"We believe that (the pope's) presence in person in Kyiv is key for saving lives and paving the path to peace in our city, country and beyond," Klitschko wrote.
He said Kyiv was ready to offer any help needed. If a visit was not possible, the mayor suggested a live or recorded video conference also including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
"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.
The contents of the letter were confirmed by the mayor's spokeswoman.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic Church and Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash, separately invited the pope to visit last month.
Both of those invitations were made before the war started.
In its statement, the Vatican repeated words by the pope on Sunday that implicitly rejected Moscow's justifications for the invasion.
"Faced with the barbarity of killing of children, of innocents and unarmed civilians, no strategic reasons can hold up. The only thing to do is stop this unacceptable armed aggression before it reduces cities into cemeteries," the statement said.
Moscow says its action is designed not to occupy territory but to demilitarize and "denazify" its neighbor.
Russia calls its action a "special military operation." On March 6, Francis implicitly rejected that term, saying it could not be considered "just a military operation" but a war that had unleashed "rivers of blood and tears."