The Pope delivered a video speech to the 10th All-Russian Catholic Youth Assembly in St. Petersburg on Friday, when he encouraged the attendees to perceive themselves as successors of the Russian empire.
“Never forget your heritage. You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire – educated, great culture and great humanity. Never give up on this heritage. You are descendants of the great Mother Russia, step forward with it. And thank you – thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.- Pope Francis
The address delivered by the pope was criticized by Oleh Nikolenko, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, on Monday.
This is the kind of imperialist propaganda, ‘spiritual bonds’ and the ‘need’ to save ‘Great Mother Russia’ which the Kremlin uses to justify the murder of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages. The pope’s missionshould be “precisely to open the eyes of Russian youth to the devastating course of the current Russian leadership” and instead he is promoting “Russian great-power ideas, that are, in fact, the reason for Russia’s chronic aggression.- Oleh Nikolenko
In the context of an exhibition honoring the first Russian monarch, President Vladimir Putin of Russia drew a parallel between himself and Peter the Great, so employing this connection as a means to rationalize Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.
Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it … He was not taking away anything, he was returning. This is how it was.- President Vladimir Putin
He further asserted that the lack of recognition by European countries regarding Peter the Great's acquisition of land through the use of war was inconsequential.
The aforementioned comments were promptly criticized by individuals from Ukraine, who perceived them as a blatant acknowledgment of Putin's aspirations for imperialism. These words gained renewed attention following the recent speech delivered by the Pope.
In a formal statement, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, expressed his view that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great represent unfavorable instances of imperialism and intense Russian nationalism. He cautioned that the remarks made by the pope might be interpreted as an endorsement of the nationalism and imperialism that have contributed to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
As a Church, we want to state that in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, such statements inspire the neocolonial ambitions of the aggressor country.- Sviatoslav Shevchuk
The Vatican, on Tuesday, declined to endorse the interpretation of the pope's statements as an endorsement of imperialism.
The Pope intended to encourage youngpeople to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference.- The Vatican,
The pontiff has already faced criticism for some remarks pertaining to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In a statement made by the Italian daily La Stampa in June of the previous year, Pope Francis expressed the view that the conflict "was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented."
Before to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they had a meeting with a prominent political figure who expressed deep concerns on the perceived advancements of NATO.
In August of last year, the pope enraged Kiev by referring to Darya Dugina, the daughter of an ultra-nationalist scholar, as one of the "innocent" victims of the war after she was murdered by a vehicle bomb on the outskirts of Moscow.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, to address Francis' comments, claiming that it "unjustly" equates "the aggressor and the victim." Following the pope's assertion of engagement in the process, Ukrainian authorities earlier stated that they have "no knowledge" of a Vatican peace mission to end the dispute with Russia.
According to the Vatican, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Pope Francis in Rome in May, during which he assured him of "his constant prayer" for peace and emphasized the need of "human gestures" toward war victims.