The Vatican has responded to the recent uproar over Pope Francis’ comments about “Mother Russia.”
In a speech aimed at Russian youth, the Pope urged them to promote peace and understanding. However, his mention of historical figures tied to Russia’s past has caused controversy, especially in Ukraine.
The comments, made during a video address to Russian youths, sparked a wave of reactions both within Russia and abroad.
In a carefully prepared speech, Pope Francis urged the young people of Russia to become “artisans of peace” and to foster reconciliation even in the midst of ongoing conflicts. However, during an unscripted portion of his address, the Pope made an offhand comment that Catholic youths were the “heirs of the great Mother Russia.”
He went on to elaborate, referencing historical figures like Peter the Great and Catherine II, who were associated with imperial Russia. He described their era as one of cultural richness and humanity. The video of the Pope’s remarks was published on the website of the Church of the Mother of God in Moscow.
These remarks were met with criticism and protests, particularly from Ukraine. The timing of the Pope’s comments coincided with President Vladimir Putin’s controversial use of historical figures like Peter the Great to justify Russia’s actions, including the invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s head, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, expressed deep concern and pain over the Pope’s comments, considering them as a glorification of Russian imperialism.
In response to the mounting backlash, the Vatican has moved to clarify the Pope’s intentions. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni stated that Pope Francis never meant to endorse or celebrate imperialist ideologies. Rather, the Pope sought to highlight the positive aspects of Russia’s cultural and spiritual heritage. The aim was to encourage the upcoming generation to uphold and advance these positive elements.
Bruni emphasized that the Pope’s intention was not to elevate imperialist ideologies or historical figures as models for governance. Instead, he wanted to underline certain periods of Russia’s history for reference, without necessarily promoting those specific ideologies.
According to Joe Ronan of Catholic Voices, the Pope’s remarks were aimed at building a connection with his Russian audience, particularly the youth. Ronan pointed out that one of the Pope’s titles is “pontiff,” which translates to “bridge builder.” He explained that building bridges requires understanding both sides, and the Pope’s comments aimed at fostering dialogue and understanding.
Ronan cautioned against taking the Pope’s words out of context. He argued that focusing solely on the references to Russian history might lead to a skewed interpretation. He stressed that a significant part of the Pope’s message was directed towards urging young people to adopt a different perspective, one of bridge-building and peace preservation.
The Vatican’s response shows the delicate balance between acknowledging a nation’s historical and cultural heritage while avoiding the endorsement of controversial ideologies. Pope Francis’ remarks, though interpreted differently by various parties, seem to align with his broader message of peace and understanding among nations and generations.