VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has said that he will not visit Ukraine right now, but he would like to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow if the Russian president is willing.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, published May 3, the pope said that he asked Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin about 20 days into the Russia-Ukraine war to convey the message to Putin that he was willing to meet him in Moscow.

“We have not yet had a response and we are still insisting, even if I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to do this meeting at this time,” he said.

Francis also said that “for now, I will not go to Kyiv,” noting that he had sent Cardinal Michael Czerny and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski as his envoys.

“But I feel that I should not go,” he said. “First I should go to Moscow, first I should meet Putin. But I am also a priest, what can I do? I am doing what I can. If Putin would open the door…”

The pope recalled that after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 he spoke to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the phone.

On Feb. 25, he went to the Russian embassy, but Francis clarified that he “did not call” Putin while he was there. At the embassy, “I asked them to explain to me, I told them, ‘please stop,’” the pope said.

In the interview, Pope Francis also reflected on whether statements made by NATO toward Russia prompted a worse reaction from Putin.

He said he would not say that Putin’s ire was “provoked” by NATO’s statements, but that maybe it was “encouraged.”

“But so much brutality, how can you not stop it? Twenty-five years ago with Rwanda, we experienced the same thing,” he said, appearing to compare the situation in Ukraine to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Pope Francis also spoke about his video conference call with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in March. He said that in the first half of the 40-minute conversation, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia “read me all the justifications for the war.”

“I listened and told him: I do not understand anything about this. Brother, we are not state clerics, we cannot use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus. We are pastors of the same holy people of God. That is why we have to look for ways of peace, to stop the fire of weapons,” Francis recounted.

“The patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy,” the pope added. “I had a meeting scheduled with him in Jerusalem on June 14. It would have been our second face-to-face meeting, nothing to do with the war. But now even he agrees: let’s stop, it could be an ambiguous signal.”