Kirill must not be Putin’s altar boy, says Pope

Pope Francis has warned the leader of Russia’s Orthodox Church that he “cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”

In a recent media interview Francis says Patriarch Kirill’s support of the war in Ukraine became clear to him during their 40-minute zoom discussion in March.

In this, Kirill spent half the time reading out justifications for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “I listened and told him: I don’t understand anything about this.

“Brother, we are not state clerics, we cannot use the language of politics, but that of Jesus.

“We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek ways of peace.”

It was in this context that Francis added: “The Patriarch cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”

Francis has successfully engaged with Kirill in the past.

In 2016 he and the Patriarch had an historic meeting in Havana, Cuba (pictured) – the first in nearly 1,000 years since the split between Eastern orthodoxy and Rome.

A second encounter had been planned to take place in Jerusalem in June this year but has been called off.

Steadfast, diplomatic peacemaking

On Sunday, the Pope appealed for peace in Ukraine and called the suffering of vulnerable elderly people and children a “macabre regression of humanity”.

He has offered to meet Putin in Moscow as part of the Holy See’s peace efforts but the Kremlin has yet to respond.

“I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting right now,” he says.

His efforts for peace have seen him repeatedly condemn the invasion of Ukraine in February and the suffering it is causing. He avoids mentioning Russia and Putin by name however.

Meantime, the Vatican seeks to work through its diplomatic channels and maintain dialogue with the Russian orthodox leadership.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State and – in the pope’s words – a “great diplomat”, has offered the Vatican’s services as a mediator.

It is possible that NATO “barking at the door of Russia” may have facilitated the conflict, Francis suggests.

He likens the situation in Ukraine to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1930s civil war in Spain, in his condemnation of the arms trade.

Wars take place to “test” the weapons that have been made, he says.

“I don’t know how to answer– I am too far away – whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians.”

Back in 2014, the Pope warned that a third world war was taking place in a piecemeal fashion. At that time, he pointed to conflicts in Syria, Yemen and “now one war after another in Africa”.

During his meeting last month with the President of Hungary, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian leader told him that Russia planned to end the war on May 9, when Russia celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany.

“I am pessimistic,” Francis says.

“But we must make every possible effort to stop the war.”


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