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Pope Francis in the Vatican on…Andrew Medicini / Associated Press

In comments he made via video to Catholic youth in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Friday, Pope Francis paid tribute to 18th-century Russian rulers and the great Russia they helped create — the empire that President Vladimir Putin cited in framing his invasion of Ukraine. .

“Never forget the legacy,” said Francis. “You are the heirs of Great Russia: Great Russia of saints and rulers, Great Russia of Peter I and Catherine II, that empire – great, enlightened, with great culture and great humanity.”

The pope, who was finishing his address at the end of a conference focused on young church members in St Petersburg, had switched from his prepared remarks in Spanish to urging the audience in Italian to keep history in mind, according to Reuters. The Vatican only issued prepared pronouncements, however clip Religious agencies, who later posted it, showed him making these additional comments.

And while throughout the past year Francis has been a steadfast supporter of peace and Ukrainians whom he calls “martyrs” in the fight against invading Russian forces, his comments quickly came under fire in Ukraine and other countries close to Russia that were once part of the Soviet Union. .

“It is very unfortunate that the ideas of the great Russian state, which are actually the cause of Russia’s chronic aggression, intentionally or unintentionally, come from the mouth of the Pope,” said Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. wrote on Facebook.

Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves wrote on the X platform formerly known as Twitter that the remarks were “Really disgusting.”

It was issued by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Svyatoslav Shevchuk a permit Referring to the “pain” and “disappointment” caused by the pope’s remarks and calling on the Holy See to clarify Francis’ comments to avoid “any manipulation of the intentions, context and pronouncements intended for the Holy Father”.

Putin — who last year compared himself to Peter the Great — has over the past 18 months used the idea of ​​rebuilding the Russian Empire to frame the invasion of Ukraine, which was a Soviet state until 1991, when the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He also portrayed the invasion as an attempt to “put an end to the war unleashed by the West,” as he put it last week.

the The Pope’s Prepared SpeechAnd it was issued in the Vatican Bulletin, which did not mention his closing statements, and centered on the importance of young people building bridges between generations.

And the Vatican text reads: “I invite you to be sowers, to sow the seeds of reconciliation, small seeds in the winter of war that will not sprout now on a frozen ground, but which will blossom in the spring of the future.”

In the early months of the conflict, Francis seemed to avoid taking sides and refrained from publicly criticizing the Russian president or the war’s main religious backer, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. In May, after a video conference with Kirill, Francis changed course and warned Kirill not to “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy”.

On Monday, the Vatican issued a statement saying the pope had never taken a political stance and that his words “should be read as a loud voice in defense of human life and the values ​​associated with it”.

She emphasized that the Pope always condemns war that is “morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, absurd, hateful and profane.”

A peace envoy sent by the Pope, Cardinal Matteo Zubi, traveled to Ukraine, Russia and the United States to facilitate peace talks over the summer.

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