In a video commentary for Catholic youth in St. Petersburg, Russia, Pope Francis on Friday praised 18th-century Russian rulers and the Great Russia they helped create — an empire that President Vladimir V. Putin has invoked as he charted his invasion of Russia. Ukraine .
“Never forget the legacy,” Francis said. “You are the heirs of Great Russia: Great Russia of saints, rulers, Great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire — great, enlightened, of great culture and great humanity.”
The pope, who was finishing his address at the end of a conference aimed at the young members of the Church in St. Petersburg, had moved from his prepared remarks in Spanish to calling the audience in Italian to understand history. keep in mind, according to Reuters. The Vatican only released the prepared remarks, but an excerpt later circulated by religious authorities showed him making the additional remarks.
While Francis has consistently supported peace over the past year and called Ukrainians “martyrs” fighting Russia’s invading forces, his remarks were quickly criticized in Ukraine and other countries close to Russia that used to be part of the Soviet Union. -Union. .
“It is very unfortunate that the ideas of the Russian great state, which are in fact the cause of Russia’s chronic aggression, whether consciously or not, come from the mouth of the Pope,” wrote Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs, on Facebook.
Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves wrote on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that the comments “really disgusting.”
And the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, released a statement noting the “pain” and “disappointment” caused by the pope’s remarks and calling on the Holy See to reject Francis’ remarks. to avoid “any manipulation of intentions”. context and explanations assigned to the Holy Father.”
Mr Putin – who compared himself to Peter the Great last year – has spent the last 18 months using the idea of rebuilding the Russian empire to plot the invasion of Ukraine, which was a Soviet state until 1991, when the Soviet Union Union fell apart. He has also portrayed the invasion as an attempt “to end the war unleashed by the West,” as he put it last week.
The pope’s prepared speech, published in a Vatican bulletin that did not mention his final statements, revolved around the importance of young people building bridges between generations.
“I invite you to be sowers, to sow seeds of reconciliation, small seeds that will not germinate on frozen ground in this winter of war for the time being, but will bloom in a future spring,” the Vatican transcript reads.
In the early months of the conflict, Francis seemed to avoid taking sides and refrain from openly criticizing the Russian president or the main religious supporter of the war, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. In May, after a videoconference with Kirill, Francis changed course and warned Kirill not to “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy.”
On Monday, the Vatican released a statement saying the pope never takes a political stance and that his words “should be read as a voice raised in defense of human life and the values associated with it.”
It stated that the pope has always condemned a “morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, abhorrent and sacrilegious” war.
A peace envoy sent by the pope, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, has traveled to Ukraine, Russia and the United States this summer to facilitate peace talks.