The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) is shocked and dismayed by recent statements from His Holiness Pope Francis during his online meeting with the Russian Catholic youth in Saint Petersburg. Instead of spreading the word of truth about Russia’s carnage and war crimes in Ukraine and calling for a peaceful end to Russia’s genocidal war against the people of Ukraine, the Pontiff glorified the Russian Empire, its heritage and its most brutal conquering czars.
“We call upon His Holiness to condemn Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine and all forms of Russian imperialism – past and present,” stated UWC President Paul Grod. “The Pope’s statement encouraging Russian youth to take pride in the historical conquests, killings and enslavement of other peoples by Russia’s czars is a direct parroting of the Kremlin’s justification of their war in Ukraine. These statements do little more than further justify Russia’s war. He cannot justify these statements as a means to keep the channel of communication open with the Kremlin, which was the message presented during my meeting with Archbishop Gallagher this past June at the Vatican.”
The two Russian czars referenced by the Pope were Peter I who toppled Ukraine in blood when Ukraine fought for independence from Russia in the early 18th century, and empress Catherine II who turned Ukrainians into enslaved people during her reign.
“It was appalling to hear from His Holiness the same words and arguments that the Russians have widely used to justify their heinous and ruthless aggression against Ukraine. Today, the Russian dictator Putin compares himself to Peter I and explains Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine by the need to “re-create Great Russia”. We call upon the Pontiff to condemn all forms of Russian imperialism,” President Grod added.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church kept faithful to God’s word when banished to the catacombs by Peter I successor, Stalin. It showed what it meant to be a Church of Martyrs, defending good against evil. A church that Cardinal Slipij reflected as “a mountain of corpses and rivers of blood” under Russian-Soviet rule.
The Vatican continues to justify its reluctance to name Moscow as the aggressor by the need to stay engaged with “all sides of the conflict’. However, using words and expressions similar to Russian propaganda and by holding up ruthless Russian imperialists as role models is taking the wrong side – and no way for the Holy See to meet the world’s expectation that it is a beacon of truth and mercy. These statements have been received as insulting and traumatic to the millions of Ukrainian Catholics who are suffering from Russia’s brutal invasion. Furthermore, the Pontiff’s neutrality is supporting Russia’s disinformation campaign in the Global South where the Catholic Church is revered.
It well overdue that the Pontiff recognize Ukraine as the victim and Russia as the aggressor. There can be no neutrality when genocide is being committed.