Pope Francis on Wednesday blasted the “armed aggression” on Ukraine as blasphemy and a betrayal of God.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics did not explicitly mention Russia or Ukraine, but his remarks clearly referenced the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, which began on Feb. 24.
“The weapons of the Gospel are prayer, tenderness, forgiveness and freely-given love for one’s neighbor, to any neighbor. This is how God’s peace is brought into the world,” Francis told his weekly audience.
“This is why the armed aggression of these days, like every war, represents an outrage against God, a blasphemous betrayal of the Lord of Passover, a preference for the face of the false god of this world over his meek one,” he added.
During the course of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Francis has repeatedly condemned war and called out for peace, but has shied away from directly criticizing Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, in the introduction to his new book called “Against War. The Courage to Build Peace,” the pontiff deplores how “Ukraine was attacked and invaded” and, recounting his visit to conflict-stricken Iraq last year, says he could “then have never imagined” seeing war break out in Europe.
The book, in Italian, is due for release on Thursday. Extracts were published in advance by Corriere della Sera daily, which is set to distribute it in newsstands and bookstores.
The Vatican is planning another symbolic gesture of reconciliation this Friday, marking Good Friday for Catholics, by having two women – a Russian and a Ukrainian – jointly carry the cross during the traditional Way of the Cross nighttime procession by the Colosseum in Rome.
Many Ukrainians are not happy with the idea.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has called the Russian-Ukrainian procession “untimely (and) ambiguous” as “it does not take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.”
The archbishop said he passed on the message to the Vatican that “gestures of reconciliation between our peoples will be possible only when the war is over and those guilty of crimes against humanity are justly condemned.”
The Way of the Cross commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and is part of a series of solemn rituals leading up to Easter Sunday, an important festival for Catholics and Christians in general marking Jesus’ resurrection.
According to observers, the Vatican is trying to avoid overtly taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict partly in the hope it could play a mediation role, and partly because it does not want to wreck delicate relations with the pro-war Russian Orthodox Church.