Pope Francis’s top diplomat on Monday confirmed what many suspected: The Vatican is ready to “facilitate dialogue” between Russia and Ukraine to “avoid any escalation, stop the clashes and negotiate” amidst what he called “a military attack.”

“Above all, the military attack must stop immediately. We are all witnesses to its tragic consequences,” Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, told a handful of Italian newspapers. He said the Vatican believes that “despite the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine” there is “always room for negotiations.”

Parolin also said that the possibility of the conflict that began when Russia attacked Ukraine spreading to other European countries would be a “gigantic catastrophe,” the prospect of which makes one “shudder,” and an outcome “that unfortunately,” cannot “be completely excluded.”

Several Western countries have pledged to send weapons to Ukraine, and much of European airspace has been closed to Russian aircraft. In addition, financial sanctions on Russia is causing the ruble to collapse. Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was putting the country’s nuclear forces on “high alert.”

The cardinal called for the avoidance of any military escalation, an end to the violence, and the opening of peace talks, insisting “it is never too late” for negotiation. He said the Holy See is “ready to facilitate negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.”

Parolin insisted that the only way to avoid this war spilling into other European countries is to negotiate, in a way that also helps avoid the “possible return to ‘a new cold war with two opposing blocs.’”

Such a “disturbing scenario,” he said, “goes against the culture of fraternity that Pope Francis proposes as the only way to build a just, solidarity-based and peaceful world.”

“Although what we feared and hoped would not happen has happened — the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine — I am convinced that there is always room for negotiation,” Parolin said. “It is never too late! Because the only reasonable and constructive way to settle differences is through dialogue, as Pope Francis never tires of repeating.”

About a possible mediation by the Vatican, he said: “The Holy See, which in recent years has followed the events in Ukraine constantly, discreetly, and with great attention, offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia, is always ready to help the parties to resume that path.”

In recent days, a series of actions by Pope Francis has demonstrated his willingness to mediate, and also his disappointment with Vladimir Putin, who launched an attack against Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union. On Friday, the pontiff visited the Russian embassy to the Holy See, an extraordinary gesture that speaks to the pope’s urgency in addressing the issue, without letting protocol slow things down.

“I take advantage of this occasion,” said Parolin, “to renew the pressing invitation that the Holy Father made during his visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See, to stop the fighting and return to negotiations.”

“First and foremost, the military attack, the tragic consequences of which we have all already witnessed, must be stopped immediately,” he said. He then quoted Pope Pius XII, who on August, 24 1939 – a few days before the outbreak of the second world war – said: “Let men return to understanding. Let them resume negotiating. By negotiating with good will and with respect for each other’s rights, they will find that honorable success is never precluded from sincere and active negotiations.”

On Sunday, Francis again condemned the war and those who “place their trust in the diabolical logic of weapons,” but avoided naming Russia.