Pope Francis Under Criticism for Extolling Russian Imperialist Tsars: Pope Francis has come under criticism for telling Russian youths to remember that they are the heirs of past tsars such as Peter the Great, whom President Vladimir Putin has held up as an example to justify the invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, the Pontiff was addressing the Catholic youth gathered in St. Petersburg via live video when he made the comment that Ukraine deemed “deeply regrettable.”
The Holy Father started by reading his prepared speech in Spanish but at the end, he switched to impromptu Italian and said: “Don’t forget (your) heredity. You are heirs of the great Russia – the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, the great Russian empire, cultured, so much culture, so much humanity. You are the heirs of the great mother Russia. Go forward.”
On Saturday, the Vatican published the text of the address omitting the last controversial paragraph. In the rest of Francis’s speech, he told the Russian youth to be “artisans of peace” and to “sow seeds of reconciliation.”
Reacting to the Pope’s comment, Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry took to Facebook on Monday to condemn his speech.
“It is precisely with such imperialist propaganda, the ‘spiritual ties’ and the ‘need’ to save ‘great Mother Russia’ that the Kremlin justifies the killing of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of Ukrainian cities and villages,” Nikolenko said on Facebook.
“It is deeply regrettable that such notions of being a great power, which contributes, in essence, to Russia’s chronic aggressiveness, are voiced by the pope, either knowingly or unknowingly,” he added.
Head of Ukraine’s Eastern Rite Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said in a statement that the pope’s words had caused “great pain and worry” and feared they could “inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country”. He requested an explanation from the Vatican.
An editorial on Italy’s Il Sismografo website, which specializes in Catholic affairs, called the pope’s words “odd” at a delicate moment in history.
While repeatedly denouncing the Russian invasion in the past and calling for peace, Francis has made several controversial statements regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War. Last year, he suggested that NATO expansionism may have played a role in provoking Russia into attacking its neighbor.