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Pope backtracks on Ukraine ‘white flag’ comments

WorldPope backtracks on Ukraine ‘white flag’ comments

The Pope issued a fresh condemnation of all wars on Wednesday, days after backlash from Kyiv and Western capitals for appearing to suggest that Ukraine should surrender and negotiate peace with its Russian invader.

Pope Francis told Swiss broadcaster RSI that Ukraine should “show the courage of the white flag” and open talks with Russia, but his deputy Cardinal Pietro Parolin clarified in a Tuesday interview that Russia should first halt its aggression.

Wind blows Pope Francis’ cap off his head as he arrives for his general audience in St. Peter Square at the Vatican on Monday

(AFP via Getty Images)

“Many young people, many young people go to die (in war). Let’s pray to the Lord to give us the grace to overcome this madness of war, which is always a defeat,” the pope said during his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian Embassy to the Holy See congratulated Francis on the 11th anniversary of his election, hailing him on X as a “true and sincere advocat(e) of humanism, peace and traditional values”.

Francis is “one of the few political leaders with a truly strategic viewpoint on world problems,” the embassy said.

Francis did not specifically mention Ukraine or any other war zones in his audience, but said he had earlier been given a set of rosary beads and a copy of the Gospels that had belonged to a man killed on an unspecified frontline.

Sister Lucia Caram, an Argentine nun who met the pope before his appearance at St Peter’s Square, wrote on social media that the man was a 23-year-old Ukrainian soldier who died in Avdiivka, an eastern city captured by Russians last month.

The rosary had originally been blessed by the pope, and Sister Caram returned them to the pontiff, she said, adding that Francis kissed it and appeared moved as “he loves Ukraine and suffers for the martyrdom of this people invaded and cruelly attacked”.

Francis, who is 87 and hampered by mobility and respiratory issues, limited his speaking at the audience for a third week in a row, leaving it to an aide to read most of his prepared texts.

Pope Francis meets Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash at the Vatican


He told the faithful he still had “a bit of a cold”.

It’s not the first time Francis’ sometimes imprecise way of speaking, which is often appreciated in other contexts because of its simplicity, have created a diplomatic headache for the Holy See and angered one or the other side in the war.

He has repeatedly expressed solidarity with the “martyred” Ukrainian people but refused to call out Russia or President Vladimir Putin by name. He has seemingly expressed understanding for the invasion Putin ordered by saying NATO was “barking at Russia’s door” by expanding east, but then earned a formal protest from Moscow when he blamed most of the cruelty on Chechens and other minorities.

In September, Francis again courted the displeasure of Ukrainians, including its Greek Catholic bishops, when he praised Russia’s imperial past during a meeting with Russian youths. After Ukrainians voiced their sense of betrayal, Francis later acknowledged his words were “perhaps not happy” and that he in no way meant to justify Russia’s invasion.

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