Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow poses for a photo in front of the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Oct. 13. CNS photo/Justin McLellan

Russian Catholics embrace Pope’s support of Ukraine: archbishop

By  Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
  • October 20, 2023

Catholics in Russia support Pope Francis’ frequent prayers for “the martyred people of Ukraine,” the head of the Catholic Church in Russia said.

When the Pope asks for prayers for Ukraine at his weekly audiences or after praying the Angelus on Sundays, “no one thinks it is a political choice,” Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow told Catholic News Service Oct. 13 while in Rome to participate in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Russian Catholics “certainly” embrace the Pope’s open support for the Ukrainian people, he said, “because it is in the context of a human relationship, of a Christian relationship.”

In September, Ukrainian Catholic bishops meeting in Rome warned Pope Francis that some of his statements are used by Russian propaganda to justify the war in Ukraine.

Yet Pezzi, chairman of the Russian bishops’ conference, said the Pope’s messages are “absolutely not” appropriated by the Russian government for propaganda use.

“Maybe the media underscores certain things and leaves aside others, but this happens everywhere, unfortunately,” he said. “Of course, there are some fringes and even some important people who desecrate the Pope and deliberately distort his words. However, I would say that in general the Pope’s voice is heard and well-kept.”

In Russia, he added, “there is a great attention and a great respect for the Pope’s words.”

The archbishop said the Vatican’s mission to repatriate Ukrainian children illegally deported into Russia is currently the “point of dialogue” between the Vatican and Russia, and that the Vatican is continuing to work with Russia “to find a way toward a solution” on the situation. Current figures published by the Ukrainian government estimate just under 20,000 children have been illegally taken into Russia.

While it is not clear if the Russian Orthodox Church will support the Vatican in that effort specifically, Pezzi said that Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow expressed an “openness to dialogue with the Catholic Church” to find avenues toward peace during a June meeting in Moscow with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Pope Francis’ Ukraine peace envoy.

The archbishop also called fears that an outbreak of war in the Holy Land will detract attention from the conflict in Ukraine “cynical.”

“To think that a conflict where people die and suffer can take away attention from the conflict that I am living through, it doesn’t enter my mind,” he said. “We must add prayers, we must add fasts, this is what changes.”

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