Pope explains ‘controversial’ Russia comments

Lazy eyes listen


On Monday, Pope Francis told reporters that his admiration for “great Russia” was not about geographical conquest, but rather the country’s “great cultural heritage.” Ukrainian officials were enraged by the pope’s remarks, branding him a “instrument of Russian propaganda.”

Speaking to reporters on his way back to the Vatican from Mongolia, Pope Francis stated that while it “may not have been felicitous” to speak of “great Russia,” he did so “not in a geographical, but rather in a cultural sense.”

“What I learned in school came to mind: Peter the Great and Catherine the Great,” he said. “What I wanted to convey is the importance of accepting one’s heritage.”

The words in question were delivered by the pope during a video message to 400 young Russian Catholics in St. Petersburg.

“Do not forget your heritage,” he implored his audience. “You are heirs of the great Russia – the great Russia of saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, Catherine II, the great, educated Russian Empire of so much culture, of so much humanity. Never give up this heritage.”

Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky’s top adviser, Mikhail Podoliak, responded by accusing Pope Francis of acting “as an instrument of Russian propaganda.”

More criticism came from Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko, who posted on Facebook, “It is very unfortunate that Russian grand-state ideas, which are the cause of Russia’s chronic aggression, come knowingly or unknowingly from the Pope’s mouth.”

Lithuania replied by summoning the Vatican’s representative, while lawmakers and media outlets around the Baltic area and Poland slammed the pontiff. Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves termed the Pope’s comments “truly revolting” and labeled the Roman Catholic Church’s headquarters “the Vatnikan,” a Ukrainian slur for Russians.

The Poland-based outlet Nexta pointed out that “the Catholics of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus raised uprisings three times against this ‘enlightened empire’.”

The Holy See has already attempted to minimize the pope’s remarks. “Pope Francis has never endorsed imperialistic notions,” the papal embassy in Kiev declared last week in a statement. “On the contrary, he is a staunch opponent and critic of any form of imperialism or colonialism, across all peoples and situations.”