ROME — Pope Francis came close on Saturday to blaming Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for invading Ukraine and said a trip to kyiv was possible as he arrived in Malta for a short visit underlining the plight migrants, a problem that has long dominated the pontiff’s agenda and which has become critical with the war in Ukraine.
On the flight to Malta from Rome, Francis responded to a reporter’s question about the visit to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, saying it was “on the table.” Then, in his address to dignitaries and officials in a frescoed government hall in Malta, Francis accused a “potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests”, of having cast “dark shadows of war” from Eastern Europe.
Francis declined to explicitly name Mr. Putin or Russia as the aggressor for a variety of reasons, including the Vatican’s hopes of playing a role in an eventual peace deal, and as a precaution not to endanger Roman Catholics around the world. whole. But on Saturday he clearly seemed to be talking about Mr Putin, who Francis said was “provoking and fomenting strife”.
“We had thought that invasions from other countries, savage street fights and atomic threats were dark memories of the distant past,” the pope added. “However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have powerfully swept away the lives of many and affected us all.”
Francis, 85, spoke on Saturday on his 36th trip abroad since being elected in 2013, but those years have marked him. He boarded the plane in Rome using an elevator because an inflamed ligament in his right knee and sciatica have recently increased his lameness and reduced his mobility.
Once in Malta, he walked with difficulty – and with the help of an assistant. Vatican officials raised concerns about him sailing later in the day on a catamaran to the island of Gozo and sailing the steps of St. Paul’s Grotto on Sunday in Rabat, northern Malta.
The trip, originally scheduled for May 2020, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now comes amid another unforeseen global catastrophe, with Russia invading Ukraine, bombing civilians and the forcing of another migration crisis. Before leaving Rome, he met Ukrainian mothers and children who had escaped the war.
The pope, dressed in his white robe over black trousers, met with officials and dignitaries from an island which, according to the scriptures, welcomed the apostle Paul with “unusual kindness” when he was shipwrecked there, an image he played on in his address to call for better treatment of migrants.
“Paul was a man, a man who needed help,” Francis said. “Humanity is first and foremost: this is the lesson taught by this country whose history has been blessed by the arrival of the shipwrecked apostle.”
He said that according to its Phoenician etymology, Malta means “safe harbor”.
“Nevertheless, given the growing influx in recent years,” Francis said, “fear and insecurity have fueled some discouragement and frustration.”
In recent years, migrant advocates have accused Malta of sending desperate people back from its shores. And even on Friday, Maltese media reported that a ship carrying around 100 people rescued from international waters was seeking refuge in Malta, but the government had refused to let them disembark.
On Saturday, Francis said that “from the poor and densely populated south, large numbers of people are moving to the rich north – this is a fact, and it cannot be ignored by embracing anachronistic isolationism.”
But he also noted the new migration crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, and argued that Europe had more than enough land, and countries, to shelter them with dignity.
Francis also addressed other issues that have emerged in Malta, including the country’s struggles against corruption, smuggling and money laundering. In 2017, the country’s best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was murdered in a car bomb attack after accusing companies and politicians linked to a prominent businessman of corruption.
In a clear allusion to corruption, Francis urged Malta to “consolidate the foundations of life in society, which is based on law and legality” and to “cultivate legality and transparency, which will allow the eradication of corruption and criminality, none of which operates openly and in broad daylight.
But it was the war in Ukraine that demanded much of his attention. The pope called for keeping a cool head in the face of “an infantile and destructive aggression that threatens us, in the face of the risk of an expanded cold war”.
Francis has long called for disarmament, a position he has maintained, even as Europe seeks to defend itself against a growing Russian threat. Last month he said angrily that he was “ashamed when I read that a group of states had pledged to spend 2% of their GDP on arms purchases in response to this happening now – madness!
Instead, he spoke of achieving world peace through indefinite “international relations,” which would replace a model ruled by “economic-technocratic-military power.”