Ukraine's Eastern Rite Catholic bishops told Pope Francis on Wednesday that his recent comments in which he lauded the “great Russian Empire” caused “pain, suffering” and “a certain disappointment” among Ukrainians.

During the meeting at the Vatican, they said the remarks were “painful and difficult for the Ukrainian people, who are currently bleeding in the struggle for their dignity and independence.”

In a video message to young Catholic Russians on August 25, the 86-year-old pontiff said they should remember they were "children of great Russia, of great saints, of kings, of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, of a Russian people of great culture and great humanity".

Referencing the fact that the Kremlin had welcomed the Pope’s remarks, the Ukrainian bishops added they had been “used by Russian propaganda to justify and support the murderous ideology of the 'Russian World'.”

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According to a statement released after the meeting, the Pope said in response: "The fact that you doubted whom the pope is with was particularly painful for the Ukrainian people.

“I want to assure you of my solidarity with you and constant prayerful closeness. I am with the Ukrainian people."

The Pope’s original comments caused outrage in Ukraine. One of Peter the Great’s most notorious acts was to have his own son tortured to death. Whereas Catherine conspired to have her husband deposed and killed in order to take the throne.

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To Ukrainian ears, it would seem the Pope had chosen the very tsars who had made it their policy to destroy any Ukrainian national consciousness whatsoever.

Peter I destroyed the Cossack fortress of Baturyn in 1708, killing upwards of 10,000 civilians, while Catherine II liquidated the Zaporozhian Cossack Sich in 1775 and imposed serfdom on Ukrainian lands.

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko described the unscripted remarks as reminiscent of "imperialist propaganda" and "very unfortunate".

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"I wasn't thinking about imperialism when I said that, I was talking about culture," Pope Francis told reporters on the papal plane following a trip to Mongolia.

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