Ukrainian Catholic bishops have voiced their disappointment and concern to Pope Francis over recent remarks he made about Russia. The comments in question were made during a video conference on August 25, where the pope referred to young Russian Catholics as heirs of the “great Russian empire.”
Many Ukrainians were taken aback by these comments, especially as Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn on the historical legacy of Russian rulers to rationalize his actions in Ukraine. The Ukrainian bishops mentioned that these remarks were utilized by Russian propaganda to bolster their “Russian World” ideology. This viewpoint essentially denies Ukraine its distinct national identity.
Addressing the issue, Pope Francis stated, “The fact that you doubted whom the pope is with was particularly painful for the Ukrainian people. I want to assure you of my solidarity with you and constant prayerful closeness. I am with the Ukrainian people.” He clarified that his intent was to appreciate Russia’s cultural history and not its political ambitions.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk described the discussion with the pope as “frank and sincere.” He emphasized that the church is keenly aware of every word from the pope, seeing him as the “universal voice of truth and justice.”
During the meeting, he poignantly recalled Ukrainian children he met, mentioning how the war had “taken the smile away from children.”
Despite the Vatican’s stance of neutrality in global disputes, the pope’s statements have stirred emotions. While some see his words as a reflection of love for the Ukrainian people, others feel let down. As the conversations continue, many hope for a peaceful resolution and clarity in communication.