“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.”
Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, made that clarification on Tuesday regarding the words spoken by Pope Francis at the end of a virtual meeting on 25 August with participants in the Russian Youth Day that had opened three days earlier in St Petersburg.
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.
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.”