Vatican Issues Statement of Clarification after Sviatoslav Shevchuk Releases Statement over Pope Francis' Remarks to Russia's Youth


The Director of the Holy See Press Office clarified Pope Francis' remarks on Russia made on the 25th of August during a video link-up with participants at the Russian Youth Day in St Petersburg. This was after Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), issued a statement of concern. The Vatican wrote, that the Pope "intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote what is positive in Russia's great cultural and spiritual heritage."
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Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, made the following clarification on August 29th regarding the words spoken by Pope Francis at the end of a virtual meeting with participants in the Russian Youth Day that had opened three days earlier in St Petersburg.
"In the words of greeting addressed to several young Russian Catholics a few days ago, as is clear from the context in which he pronounced them, the Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote what is positive in Russia's great cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialistic logics and governmental personalities, cited to indicate certain historical periods of reference."
To the young people gathered in the Russian city's St. Catherine's Basilica, the Pope, after reiterating the invitation to be "sowers of seeds of reconciliation", asked them to never forget their "heritage".
He then referred to 'great Russia' and its cultural history, and cited Peter the Great and Catherine II.
The Pope's words - published on the website of the Church of the Mother of God in Moscow - provoked several protests from Ukraine, which criticised the Pope's greeting as an encouragement of imperialist ideas.
A reaction from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, followed a few hours later (See full text below).
The Nunciature in Kyiv, however, rejected all interpretations, stating that Pope Francis "is a convinced opponent and critic of any form of imperialism or colonialism, in all peoples and situations. The words of the Roman Pontiff, pronounced on 25 August, should also be interpreted in this same key." (Source: Vatican News)
FULL TEXT Statement of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Head and Father of the UGCC, regarding the discussion regarding some of the statements of the Holy Father Francis at the meeting with the Catholic youth of Russia on August 25, 2023
It is with great pain and concern that we learned of the words attributed to His Holiness Pope Francis at an online meeting with Russian Catholic youth on August 25, 2023, in St. Petersburg. We hope that these words of the Holy Father were spoken spontaneously, without any attempt at historical evaluations, let alone support of Russia’s imperialist ambitions. Nonetheless, we share the great pain which they caused, not only among the episcopate, clergy, monastics, and faithful of our Church, but also among other denominations and religious organizations. At the same time, we are also aware of the deep disappointment that they have caused in society.

The words about “the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that great, enlightened empire — a country of great culture and great humanity” — are the worst example of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism. There is a danger that these words could be taken as supporting the very nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today — a war that brings death and destruction to our people every day.

The examples given by the Holy Father actually contradict his teachings on peace, since he has always condemned any form of manifestation of imperialism in the modern world and warned of the dangers of extreme nationalism, stressing that it is the cause of the “third world war in segments.”

As a Church, we wish to state that in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, such statements inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country, even though such a way of “being Russian” should be categorically condemned.

In order to avoid any manipulation of the intentions, context and statements attributed to the Holy Father, we await a clarification of this situation from the Holy See.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, together with all citizens of our country, condemns the ideology of the “Russian world” and the entire criminal way of “being Russian”. We hope the Holy Father will hear our voice.

In a few days, the bishops of our Church will come together in Rome for the annual Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. We will have the opportunity to meet His Holiness and personally convey to him the doubts and pain of the Ukrainian people, trusting in his paternal care for them.

† Sviatoslav