ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Sunday he was still working on arranging a meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, despite that leader’s seeming justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and said he wouldn’t rule out travelling to the region if it would help.

Speaking to reporters en route home from Malta, Francis said he and Patriarch Kirill were thinking of a possible location in the Middle East. But he provided no details other than to recall that they spoke by video on March 16.

Kirill has called for peace and for civilians to be spared but has seemingly justified Russia’s invasion by casting it as a “metaphysical” battle with the West and its “gay parades.” His insistence that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” is echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Francis was asked what he would say to Putin if they were to speak by phone, and recalled what he had told Maltese leaders upon his arrival on Saturday. In the speech, Francis blasted the “potentate” for his “infantile and destructive aggression” that he had justified under the guise of “anachronistic claims of nationalist interests.” Still, he did not name Putin in the speech.

Francis stressed that he had no immediate plans for a visit to Kyiv but that a proposal was “on the table.”

“I said the availability is always there. There is not a ‘No,’” he said. But he stressed that any such trip would have to be evaluated to see if it would help or not, or could even be done. And he said if it was determined that it could help, “I must do it.”

He paid tribute to the reporters who have died covering the conflict, saying they were providing a courageous service for the common good.

“I want to offer condolences for your colleagues who have fallen, no matter what side, I don’t care,” he said. “Your work is a work for the common good. They died in service of the common good: information. We wont forget them. They were courageous. I pray for them, and may the Lord reward their work.”

Francis was also asked about his health, given his clear struggles walking during the two-day trip to Malta. He used an elevator to board and descend from the plane, and at times he needed assistance getting up from his chair.

“My health is a bit capricious,” he said. “I have this problem with my knee which makes problems of mobility and walking. It’s a bit painful. But it’s getting better. At least I can move.”

He revealed that a few weeks ago, he couldn’t walk — an apparent reference to the rest ordered up by his doctors that forced the cancellation of a trip to Florence and Francis’ participation in an Ash Wednesday procession.

“We’ll see if I go back (to that),” he said. “There’s some doubt because at this age, you don’t know how it’ll end up. We’ll hope it turns out OK.”

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