The Vatican press office confirmed that Pope Francis made a visit to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to express his concern about the fighting in Ukraine on Friday morning.
The Russian Embassy to the Holy See is a short distance outside of Vatican City situated on the road leading into St. Peter's Square, and this was seen by most as a strong personal papal initiative.
Aside from saying the visit lasted just over an hour, the Vatican provided no further information nor distributed any video or photographs. The pope was seen leaving the embassy building seated in the front seat of a small, white car.
Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev, the Russian diplomat at the embassy, told Russian media that "the pope personally wanted to ask about the situation in Donbas and Ukraine" and expressed his great concern about the humanitarian situation and conditions of the population. He reportedly urged for the care of children, the sick and the people who were suffering.
The pope's surprise and unprecedented visit to the embassy took many Vatican watchers by surprise, as it is normal protocol for ambassadors to come to the Vatican to meet with the pope. However, Pope Francis has in the past dropped in to see people in Vatican offices outside the walls of the tiny state when he has urgent matters he wishes to discuss.
On Thursday, Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, said in a video statement released after the start of Russian military operations in Ukraine that although the tragic scenarios everyone feared were becoming reality "there is still time for goodwill, there is still room for negotiation." He said he hoped those who hold the destiny of the world in their hands would have a "glimmer of conscience."
Commentators have noted that the pope and the Vatican have been careful about publicly criticizing and naming Russia, some say, so as not to antagonize the Russian Orthodox Church.
On Wednesday at the end of his general audience in the Vatican, Pope Francis called on believers and nonbelievers to pray and fast for peace in Ukraine on Ash Wednesday to combat the "diabolical insistence, the diabolical senselessness of violence," saying that "once again the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests."
He appealed to those with political responsibilities to do a serious examination of conscience before God and urged world leaders to "refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing the coexistence between nations and discrediting international law."
Earlier Friday, the Vatican press office announced the pope would not make his scheduled one-day trip to Florence Sunday and would have to skip the Ash Wednesday ceremony in the Vatican at the start of Lent due to a flare up of knee pain. His doctors have told him he needs a longer period of rest, but that did not seem to stop him making Friday's surprise visit.