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Church

Pope Αsserts Ukraine Right to Defense in Blasting Russia War

ROME— Pope Francis on Friday denounced the “perverse abuse of power” on display in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for aid to Ukrainians who he said had been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and were “defending their land.”

Francis’ comments, in a message to a gathering of European Catholic representatives, marked some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state and to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

It came just days after Francis told the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, that the concept of a “just war” was obsolete since wars are never justifiable and that pastors must preach peace, not politics.

Those comments, during a video call Wednesday with Kirill, were an indirect jab at the patriarch’s apparent defense of the war. Kirill, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has seemingly justified the invasion by describing it as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades.” He has blamed the West and a fellow Orthodox patriarch for fomenting enmity between Ukraine and Russia and echoed Putin in insisting they are “one people.”

In his comments Friday, Francis did not mention Russia by name — evidence of the Vatican’s tradition of not identifying aggressors and its attempts to keep open a dialogue with Kirill’s church. But Francis strongly backed Ukraine.

“The heartbreaking scream for help from our Ukrainian brothers pushes us as a community of believers not just to serious reflection, but to cry with them and work for them; to share the anguish of a people wounded in its identity, history and tradition,” Francis told the meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“The blood and tears of the children, the suffering of women and men who are defending their land or fleeing from the bombs shake our conscience. Once again humanity is threatened by a perverse abuse of power and partisan interests, which condemns defenseless people to suffer all forms of brutal violence.”

Francis on March 25 is to celebrate a Mass during which he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Virgin Mary in a ritual that holds deep significance for the Catholic faithful. According to tradition, one of the so-called secrets of Fatima concerns the consecration of Russia to “the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” prophesizing that peace will follow if the consecration is done.

The Vatican confirmed Friday that Francis had invited all the world’s bishops and religious superiors to join him in prayer during the consecration ritual, adding a universal dimension to the act. In addition, on the same day, one of Francis’ top aides, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, will celebrate a consecration Mass in Fatima, Portugal, the site of the early 20th century Marian apparitions that formed the basis of the “secrets of Fatima.”

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