Harsh criticism from Ukraine of Pope Francis’ praise of Russia’s imperialist past: the Vatican should have clarified his statements

Pope Francis. LUCA ZENNARO/Pool via REUTERS (POOL/)

This Tuesday, the Vatican sought to quell a scandal that erupted after the Pope Francisco praised Russia’s imperialist past during a video conference with young Russian Catholics, insisting that it was never intended to encourage modern Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Vatican spokesman Matteo BruniHe said Francis simply wanted to praise the positive aspects of Russia’s spiritual and cultural history when he praised Russia’s imperial rulers, Peter and Catherine the Great, encouraged young people to remember that past and praised their way of “being Russian”. “

Francis “certainly did not want to exalt the imperialist logic or the personalities of the government, who were cited to indicate certain historical periods of reference”Bruni said in a statement.

The Vatican, and before it, the embassy of the Holy See in Ukraine, spoke out after Ukraine’s Greek Catholic leader, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchukcomplained bitterly about Francisco’s comments. The Vatican never published the comments.but they were shared on social media after Francis’ video conference with a gathering of young Catholics on Friday in St. Petersburg.

In his off-the-cuff remarks, Francis told young Russians to always remember their past.

Never forget your heritage. You are the heirs of great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity”, Francisco said, according to the video clip. “Never forget this heritage. You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, forward. And thanks. Thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian”.

Shevchuk, who has frequently complained about Francis’ interventions on Russia, issued a forceful response. He said the reference to Russia’s imperial leaders “refers to the worst example of Russian imperialism and extreme nationalism.”

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko (VALENTYN OGIRENKO/)

“We are afraid that some people understand such words as a stimulus to precisely this nationalism and imperialism, which is the real cause of the war in Ukraine,” he said. “A war that every day brings death and destruction to our people.”

Francis has at times angered both sides of the war in Ukraine with his off-the-cuff comments. Apparently, he has justified the invasion of Russia by saying that NATO was “barking at Russia’s door” with its eastward expansion. At the same time, Moscow lodged a formal diplomatic protest when it blamed most of the cruelty of the war on Chechens and other minorities, in an apparent effort to avoid criticism of ethnic Russian troops.

“In the impromptu greetings in recent days to some young Russian Catholics, as is clear from the context in which he delivered them, the Pope wanted to encourage young people to preserve and promote everything positive in the great world of Russian culture and spirituality. , and certainly not to exalt the imperialist logic and the government personalities cited to indicate some historical periods of reference”, explained the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni today.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni speaks to the media.  REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni speaks to the media. REUTERS/Remo Casilli (REMO CASILLI/)

While Francis has frequently expressed solidarity with the “martyred” Ukrainian people, the Vatican has insisted that it is not taking sides in the war, hoping to try to remain a neutral actor in pursuit of peace.

The pope’s words praising Russia’s history were criticized by the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in kyiv, Oleg Nikolenko, who considered that they defended “Russian imperialism.”

In a Facebook post, Nikolenko noted: “It is truly a pity that the ideas of a great Russian power, which are actually the cause of Russia’s chronic aggressiveness, consciously or unconsciously leave the lips of the pope, whose mission, in our opinion, it is precisely to open the eyes of the Russian youth to the destructive course of the current Russian leadership”.

During his address to the participants of the X Meeting of young Catholics from Russia in the city of Saint Petersburg, the Pope had also asked young Russians “to be artisans of peace in the midst of so many conflicts, in the midst of so many polarizations that exist between everywhere, that stalk our world”, although without direct references to the invasion in Ukraine

After the message to young people, Francis answered some questions from young Russians and did address the issue of Ukraine in response to a girl, according to Fides Agency, the information agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The girl asked him how diplomacy should be used to overcome the conflict: “Diplomacy goes forward following a path, a path in which unity is superior to conflict”, Francis replied, according to Fides.

And he added: “True diplomacy does not fear conflicts but does not encourage them: it takes conflicts and follows them through dialogue and prayer. Understand the other’s position and also limit your mistakes. Diplomacy is not easy. Good diplomats do humanity a lot of good. A trade that is not easy at all, but very fruitful”.

“And this is true with the situation in Ukraine and with the situation in other countries. Diplomacy always builds, it does not destroy, ”he maintained.

(With information from AP and EFE)

Keep reading:

Pope Francis sent a message to young Russians with allusions to the war and Peter the Great

Pope Francis warned of the increase in drug use among young people

Pope Francis: “We are all called to be witnesses of the truth”