Pope Francis called on Russia on Sunday “Military Operation” in Ukraine a “war” which causes “death, destruction and misery”, and said he was sending two cardinals to Ukraine. Francis has previously been criticized for not directly blaming Russia and President Vladimir Putin for the bloodshed.
“In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears flow”, the pontiff said during his speech in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Reuters reported. “It is not just a military operation but a war that leads to death, destruction and misery,” Francis added, referring to Moscow’s description of the conflict as a military operation rather than a conventional operation “war.”
“War is madness; please stop, look at this cruelty! he declared, telling congregants that he was sending two cardinals to the war-torn country as a sign of “the presence of the pope”.
Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, Francis repeatedly called for peace, but refused to publicly label Russia an aggressor. Likewise, when fighting broke out earlier this month, he remained faithful to the Vatican’s traditional neutrality, calling for the evacuation of civilians from combat zones, urging Russia and Ukraine to negotiate and offering his services to mediator.
Francis spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and last week met with the Russian ambassador to the Holy See. However, a reading of the meeting simply said that Francis had visited the ambassador to “expressing concern about the war.”
Calling the conflict a “war” is the closest Francis has come to blaming Russia.
The pope’s neutrality is not shared by all senior Vatican officials. In interviews with several Italian newspapers this week, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin described the war as “released by Russia against Ukraine”, AP reported. Elsewhere, some European Catholics have adopted a similar accusatory tone.
The head of the Polish bishops’ conference, Stanisław Gądecki, wrote this week to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, urging Kirill to “call on Vladimir Putin to stop the senseless war against the Ukrainian people”.
“I ask you in the most humble way to call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the sovereign state of Ukraine,” he continued, asking Kirill “to call on Russian soldiers not to participate in this unjust war.”
Pope Francis is not the only international figure to offer his mediation between Ukraine and Russia. After two rounds of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials in Belarus failed to end the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday for Kremlin talks with Putin, before talk to Zelensky by phone. Back in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Bennett told a cabinet meeting that resolving the conflict in Ukraine was the “moral duty” of Israel.
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