Pope Francis has been accused of serving as an “instrument of Russian propaganda” by speaking positively about Russia’s historical legacy, according to Mikhail Podoliak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. Podoliak claimed that the Pope’s remarks promote “aggressive imperialism” and represent a destructive discourse for contemporary humanism. These comments were made in response to a video conference held by the Pope with Russian Catholics, during which he highlighted Russia’s rich cultural and historical heritage.
During the conference, Pope Francis reminded his audience in St. Petersburg that they are all heirs of the great Russia, including the saints, kings, and the legacy of Peter the Great and Catherine II. He called on the people of Russia to cherish and preserve this historical lineage. However, Podoliak argues that Moscow uses the examples of historical figures like Peter I and Catherine the Great to motivate its soldiers to fight in Ukraine, and he believes that the Pope’s praise of them is being exploited to eliminate Ukrainian identity.
Podoliak further suggests that the Pope’s statements raise questions about the true nature of the Catholic Church and Christianity itself. He accuses the Pontiff of once again serving as an instrument of Russian propaganda. Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, also criticized the Pope’s remarks, stating that it is unfortunate that Russian grand-state ideas, which are the cause of Russia’s aggression, are seemingly echoed by the Pope.
In response to the backlash, the Vatican clarified that the Pope’s comments were meant to highlight Russia’s great culture and humanity, rather than historical expansion. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin press-secretary, welcomed the Pope’s comments, stating that it is good that the Pontiff recognizes the deep roots of Russian history.
It is important to note that Pope Francis has been actively involved in efforts to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. During Ukrainian President Zelensky’s visit to the Vatican in May, the Pope offered his help in negotiating an end to the fighting. However, Zelensky declined the Vatican’s proposal, emphasizing the need for a just peace rather than mediators. Despite this, the Pontiff has continued his efforts to resolve the crisis, with his peace envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi visiting Kiev, Moscow, and Washington in recent months.
The accusations against Pope Francis highlight the complex geopolitical dynamics between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the challenges faced by religious leaders in navigating these sensitive issues. The Pope’s remarks have sparked debate and controversy, reflecting the broader tensions and divisions in the region. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to be a topic of concern for the international community, and the role of religious figures in promoting peace and reconciliation remains crucial.