VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican tried Tuesday to put a damper on outrage sparked by Pope Francis’ praise of Russia’s imperial past during a video conference with young Russians, insisting it never intended to encourage the current aggression against Russia. Ukraine.
Spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis only wanted to praise the positive aspects of Russian spiritual and cultural history by praising Tsars Peter the Great and Catherine, encouraging young people to remember the past and praising their way of “being Russian.”
Francis “did not want in any way to exalt the imperialist logic or the government personalities, cited only to indicate certain historical reference periods,” Bruni said in a statement.
The Vatican and, previously, the embassy of the Holy See in Ukraine, responded to the statements of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, his beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who bitterly complained about the concepts expressed by the pope. The Vatican did not publish the pope’s remarks, but they appeared on social media following Francis’ video conference with a gathering of young Catholics in St. Petersburg on Friday.
Francis read a speech in which he encouraged Russian youth to be “artisans of peace” and to sow reconciliation “in this winter of war.” But in his off-the-cuff remarks, Francis told young Russians to always remember his past.
“Never forget your heritage. You are heirs of the great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, the great imperial Russia, cultured, with so much culture and humanity” Francisco said in the clip. “Never forget this heritage. You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go ahead. And thank you. Thank you for being who you are, for the way you are Russian.”
Shevchuk, who has frequently complained about Francis’ interventions on Russia, said in a searing response that the reference to Russia’s imperial rulers “refers to the worst example of extreme Russian imperialism and nationalism.”
“We are afraid that some will interpret these words as encouraging precisely this nationalism and imperialism, which is the real cause of the war in Ukraine,” he said. “War that every day brings death and destruction to our people.”