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Ukrainian bishops warn pope that his comments on Russia are fueling propaganda

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — After Pope Francis told young Russian Catholics they were the heirs of the “great educated Russian empire,” Ukrainian bishops told him that some of his statements were “painful and difficult for the Ukrainian people” and were used by Russia. to justify its invasion of Ukraine.

“The misunderstandings that have arisen between Ukraine and the Vatican since the beginning of the full-scale war, the bishops explained, are used by Russian propaganda to justify and support the murderous ideology of the ‘Russian world’,” a statement read. published by the Vatican. The Ukrainian bishops, September 6, after their two-hour meeting with the pope at the Vatican.

The “Russian World” or “Russkii Mir” refers to the cultural and political sphere of Russian influence beyond its borders and is a vision invoked by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his invasion of Ukraine.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with members of the Synod of Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic Bishops outside the Vatican Audience Hall, Sept. 6, 2023. (CNS Photo/Vatican Media)

Although the meeting of the Synod of Ukrainian Catholic Eastern Rite Bishops was originally scheduled to last an hour, the statement said it was extended at the Pope’s request.

“He didn’t spend his time talking to us. He spent time listening to us and being with us,” Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of the Holy Family in London told Catholic News Service. “The bishops were free and they evoked all the feelings of suffering that their people experience. It was important for us that the Holy Father listen to this, that he hear the reaction of the people” when he told young Russians at the end of August to be proud of their heritage.

Pope Francis told the bishops he explained his remarks to reporters on September 4 on his flight back to Rome from Mongolia, admitting that his reference to Peter the Great and Catherine II – who invaded and conquered the neighboring nations – was not the best way to make his point about the culture of great art, music and literature.

He also told the Ukrainian bishops that he explained to reporters his understanding of the “pain” that occurs when a nation’s cultural heritage is “distilled and manipulated by a certain state power and, therefore, becomes into an ideology that destroys and kills. “, indicates the press release.

“The fact that you doubted the relations of the pope was particularly painful for the Ukrainian people,” he told the bishops. “I want to assure you of my solidarity with you and of my constant prayerful closeness. I am with the Ukrainian people.”

As a sign of this closeness, Pope Francis brought with him a Marian icon given to him by Archbishop Shevchuk when the Ukrainian was a young bishop in Argentina. “I pray for Ukraine every day in front of her,” he told the bishops.

A Vatican statement released after the meeting said the pope also expressed his desire for the rosary to be prayed for peace in Ukraine throughout October, especially at Marian shrines.

The bishops thanked the pope for the humanitarian support he has given to Ukraine – papal chaplain Cardinal Konrad Krajewski has repeatedly brought clothing, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to Ukraine on behalf of the pope – his efforts to free prisoners of war and the mission of peace entrusted to him. to its special envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, who traveled to kyiv, Moscow and Washington to meet with government and Church officials.

They also asked Pope Francis to continue working for the release of two Redemptorist priests held in captivity in Russia since November 2022. They offered the pope some personal belongings of the priests, including a missionary cross, a prayer book and a rosary .

Forty-five of the 56 Ukrainian Catholic bishops from all over the world held their synodal meeting in Rome. During the two-hour meeting, 15 or 16 of them spoke to the pope “about what they felt, their pain, the war situation” and what their people are going through, Bishop said. Nowakowski. “It was an incredible sign of solidarity with us.”

After their meeting with the pope, the bishops also met with Cardinal-designate Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches. The day before, they met Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Christian Unity.

Cardinal Parolin told them that the pope’s public statements on Ukraine make it “unfair to doubt his affection for the Ukrainian people and his efforts, not always understood and appreciated, to help end the ongoing tragedy and to guarantee a just and stable peace through negotiation”. according to a statement from Archbishop Shevchuk’s Rome office.

The Cardinal also welcomed Bishop Shevchuk’s suggestion to hold a meeting of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for the Church in Eastern Europe, formed after the dissolution of the Pontifical Commission for Russia decreed by Saint John Paul II in 1993. , to discuss issues related to the war in Russia. Ukraine appreciates the concept of the Russian world, “which serves as an ideological platform for the Russian invasion”.

Cindy Wooden contributed to this story from Rome.

Read more Crisis in Ukraine

Copyright © 2023 Catholic News Service/American Conference of Catholic Bishops


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