VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday called for a ceasefire from Russian President Vladimir Putin, implored him to stop “this spiral of violence and death” in Ukraine and denounced the “absurd” risk of the “uncontrollable” consequences of a nuclear attack on The Tensions escalate because of the war.
Francis made his strongest plea yet for the seven-month-old conflict, which he denounced as a “failure and a horror.”
It was the first time he publicly cited Putin’s role in the war. The pope also urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be “open” to serious peace proposals.
Pope Francis told the public gathered in St. Peter’s Square that he was abandoning his usual religious theme for his Sunday lunchtime address in order to focus his reflections on Ukraine.
“The war in Ukraine has become so serious, devastating and threatening that it is of great concern,” Francis said.
“Indeed, this terrible, unimaginable wound of humanity, instead of shrinking, bleeds even more and threatens to spread,” the pope said.
“I deeply regret the grave situation that has been created over the past few days, with further actions in violation of the principles of international law,” Francis said in a clear reference to Putin’s illegal annexation of a large part of eastern Ukraine. “It actually increases the risk of nuclear escalation, to the point where there are fears of uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences on a global scale.”
The pope also spoke about Putin’s recent annexation of eastern Ukraine and the threat of nuclear weapons.Photo by Contributor/Getty Images
“Rivers of blood and tears shed these months torment me,” the pope said. “I am grieved by the thousands of victims, especially among children, and so much destruction, leaving many people and families homeless and threatening vast areas with cold and hunger,” he said.
“Certain actions can never be justified, ever,” said the pope. He didn’t elaborate. But Putin tried to justify launching the invasion by saying he had to protect his country from what he called “Nazi” elements in Ukraine.
“It is agonizing that the world is learning the geography of Ukraine through names like Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Izium, Zaporizhizhia and other places that have become places of indescribable suffering and anguish,” Francis said.
“And what can one say about the fact that humanity is once again exposed to a nuclear threat? It’s absurd,” said Francis, who then called for an immediate ceasefire.
“My appeal goes first and foremost to the President of the Russian Federation, imploring him to stop this cycle of violence and death, also out of love for his people,” Francis said. “On the other hand, agonized over the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people after the aggression endured, I make a similarly confident appeal to the President of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals,” Francis said.
Rarely does the Pope single out leaders in his frequent appeals to end violent conflict. In doing so, Francis signaled his extreme concern at the deteriorating situation.
“May the guns cease and may conditions be sought to begin negotiations that can lead to solutions that are not imposed by force but agreed, just and stable,” Francis said. “And they will be when they are based on respect for the inviolable value of human life and on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country, as well as on the rights of minorities and legitimate concerns.”
Citing God’s name and the “sense of humanity that dwells in every heart,” he renewed his many pleas for an immediate ceasefire.
Without elaborating, Francis also called for “recourse to all diplomatic instruments, including those that may not have been used hitherto, to bring this immense tragedy to an end.”
“The war itself is a mistake and a horror,” lamented the Pope.
Throughout the war, Francis has denounced the use of arms. But recently he stressed Ukraine’s right to defend itself against aggression. Logistical complications have dashed his often-voiced hope of making a pilgrimage to Ukraine to further peace efforts.