The Vatican has sought to defuse a falling out with Kyiv after statements by the pope extolling the legacy of imperial “Great Russia” in an address to young Russian Catholics. The Kremlin welcomed the pope’s remarks.
“The pontiff knows Russian history. It is very good. It is deep, and the legacy is not limited to Pierre and Catherine. It is gratifying that the pontiff is in unison”, declared Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on August 29, welcoming the Pope’s remarks which, on the contrary, scandalized Kiev.
You are the heirs of the great mother Russia, go ahead with this!
“You are the children of great Russia, of great saints, of kings, of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, of a Russian people of great culture and great humanity,” the pope had declared by videoconference to a group of young believers gathered in a church in Saint Petersburg on August 25. “Never forget this great legacy. You are the heirs of the great mother Russia, go ahead with this, ”he said according to this video released online.
The spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oleg Nikolenko, for his part judged the language of the pope at the end of the day on August 28 “very unfortunate”, considering that it is with “this kind of imperialist propaganda, at the support of +spiritual pillars+ and in the name of the +need+ to save the +great mother Russia+, that the Kremlin justifies the murder of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages”. According to him, the pope’s mission would be “precisely to open the eyes of Russian youth to the destructive trajectory of the Russian leaders in power”.
The Vatican justifies itself
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni assured on August 29 that the “spontaneous” remarks of the sovereign pontiff were aimed at “encouraging young people to preserve and promote what is positive in the great cultural and spiritual heritage. of Russia”. The comments were “certainly not (intended) to glorify past or present imperial logics” of Russian history, he stressed.
The Vatican’s official media portal reported on the pope’s video message on Russian Youth Day, Aug. 25, but did not post a video or pick up on the specific quotes that sparked Kyiv’s ire. . The portal, on the other hand, reported that the pope had called on young Russians to be “peacemakers” and to “sow seeds of reconciliation”.
Papal uncertainties in the face of the conflict
Pope Francis regularly calls for peace in Ukraine, even though he has been criticized by Kyiv for not condemning Russia enough. Earlier this year he appointed a high-ranking cardinal to try to broker peace, who has since visited both Moscow and Kyiv.
Since the start of the conflict, the sovereign pontiff has nevertheless positioned himself more in favor of the Ukrainian side, describing as early as March 2022 in an address from Saint Peter’s Square the Russian operation of “unacceptable armed aggression”.
On August 24, 2022, the Pope regretted the murder, in a car bomb attack, of Daria Douguina, a 29-year-old political scientist and daughter of the nationalist philosopher Alexandre Douguine. The Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See Andriï Yourach had judged the pope’s remarks “disappointing”, refusing to assimilate “aggressors and victims”. On August 30, Pope Francis reiterated his condemnations, describing the conflict as a “barbaric war started by Russia”.
Another disagreement had tarnished relations between the Holy See and Moscow, when the sovereign pontiff declared that “the Chechens and the Buryats were the most cruel” in Ukraine. Following the joint protests of Maria Zakharova, who described these remarks as “perversion”, and the Buryat and Chechen leaders, Pope Francis apologized.
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