World Youth Day presses devotion and politics of war

World Youth Day

At World Youth Day on Friday, politics and devotion met briefly.

Crux reports on August 5 that during a semi-private meeting, a Russian Orthodox bishop expressed regret for the Ukraine war, thanking Francis for supporting the Ukrainian people.

“I would like to thank you very much for all you have done for the Ukrainian people,” the Russian Orthodox bishop told Pope Francis.

The comment was made during a private meeting with interreligious leaders and was translated by Portuguese Father Peter Stillwell, director of the Portuguese bishops’ Department of Ecumenical Relations and Interreligious Dialogue.

However a report from the Pillar, the American news website, makes it clear the politics of a private meeting did not translate to the World Youth Day public devotion where there was a notable absence of any reference to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The meditations there centred generally on problems that youth typically face, such as uncertainty about the future, issues with mental health and the scourges of drugs, pornography and alcohol, but also conflict and a lack of religious freedom.

While there were general references to the suffering caused by war, there was no mention of the conflict that has the world on edge.

The Vatican’s handling of the Ukraine issue has been fraught with tension.

During the past two Via Crucis observances on Good Friday in Rome, the Holy See insisted on including a symbolic gesture for peace in Ukraine, involving both a Ukrainian and a Russian.

Neither time was Ukraine amused, leading to strained relations between the Vatican and Kyiv.

According to a source within the WYD organisation, Rome initially insisted on a similar gesture though it was unclear if it was intended for the Via Crucis devotions.

The Ukrainians made it clear that there would be diplomatic repercussions this time, and local organisers managed to dissuade the Holy See from repeating the gesture.

A compromise was reached including a visit to Ukraine by Bishop Américo Aguiar, who headed the WYD task force, to assure local Catholics that they had not been forgotten.

It is unknown whether Pope Francis’ decision to hold a private audience for Ukrainian pilgrims, during which he prayed with them, was also part of the compromise.

The delicate handling of the Ukraine issue underscores the Vatican’s complex position in a conflict that has strained international relations.

The Pope’s actions continue to be scrutinised as the world seeks a peaceful resolution to a crisis that shows no signs of resolution.

Asked en route to Rome why he skipped the peace prayer at Lourdes, the Pope said he did not want to give publicity to a public prayer.

“I prayed! I prayed! I prayed to the Madonna and I prayed for peace. I didn’t make publicity. But I prayed. And we have to continually repeat this prayer for peace.”

A Vatican official, speaking on condition he not be named, denied that any ecclesial-diplomatic considerations entered Francis’ decision-making.


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