Pope defends his controversial praise of Russian imperialism

Russian Imperialism

In a bid to quell the controversy that erupted following Pope Francis’ recent remarks praising Russian imperialism, the Vatican has moved to clarify his statements.

The pope’s comments were made during a video conference with Russian Catholic youth, where his comments were misconstrued as an endorsement of present-day Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Matteo Bruni, the Vatican spokesperson, emphasised that Pope Francis had aimed to laud the positive aspects of Russia’s spiritual and cultural history rather than endorse contemporary Russian imperialism.

Francis “certainly didn’t want to exalt imperialistic logic or government personalities who were cited to indicate certain historic periods of reference,” Bruni said in a statement.

The Pope’s accolades for historical figures like Peter and Catherine the Great were meant to highlight Russia’s cultural heritage and its distinctive “Russian-ness.”

In a prepared text, Pope Francis encouraged the young Russian audience to be champions of peace and reconciliation. However, he stressed the importance of remembering their heritage during his impromptu remarks.

“Never forget your inheritance. You are the heirs of the great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity,” Francis said, according to the video clip.

“…You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go forward. And thank you. Thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.”

The Vatican didn’t publish the comments, but they were shared on social media following Francis’ video conference with a Catholic youth encounter in St Petersburg.

Pope’s comments praised and criticised

Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, praised Pope Francis’ nuanced understanding of Russian history. Peskov also noted that Russian educational institutions were actively engaging in efforts to educate younger generations about their heritage.

The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, registered strong dissatisfaction with the Pope’s statements, interpreting them as an endorsement of nationalism and Russian imperialism that have contributed to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Shevchuk’s response highlighted the association between the Pope’s comments and the distressing implications for the war-torn region.

The Vatican’s embassy in Kyiv promptly distanced itself from these interpretations, affirming that Pope Francis did not advocate imperialistic ideas. The embassy’s statement emphasised the Pope’s consistent stance against imperialism and colonialism in all forms and contexts.

This incident isn’t the first time Pope Francis has faced criticism for his comments on the Ukraine conflict. The Pope has previously sparked both outrage and agreement with his spontaneous remarks.

On one occasion, Francis appeared to rationalise Russia’s actions by highlighting NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders.

Conversely, the pontiff also drew Moscow’s ire when he appeared to place blame on ethnic minorities rather than Russian forces for the severity of the conflict.


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