Kremlin pleased by Pope’s acknowledgment of Russian cultural heritage, Vatican ‘clarifies’ statement

29 August, 04:30 PM
Pope Francis (Photo:Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS)

Pope Francis (Photo:Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS)

After Pope Francis, during a video address in the Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg on Aug. 25, appeared to praise Russian imperialism, the Vatican has offered an explanation for the pontiff’s remarks.

The Pope, speaking by video link to a meeting All-Russian Meeting of Catholic Youth, said: “Never forget your heritage. You are heirs of Great Russia: a Russia of saints and rulers, a Russia of figures like Peter the Great and Catherine (the Great).”

Peter the Great was the founder of the Russian empire, and Catherine the Great expanded its territory through military conquest further into Ukraine and Crimea. Russian imperialism has also contributed to ethnic cleansing of native populations in the Russian Far East, murderous repression and deportation in the Baltics, and the repeated carving up and absorption of Poland in Russian imperial and Soviet times.

Video of day

“An enlightened empire, a land of profound culture and humanity. Always cherish this legacy; you are heirs of Great Mother Russia. Carry it forward. Thank you for who you are, for your way of embodying Russian identity,” the Pope continued.

Matteo Bruni, a representative of the Holy See, as reported by Vatican News, on Aug. 29 claimed that Pope Francis had not been glorifying imperialism in his address. Bruni said that the pope had intended to “inspire young people to preserve and develop the positive aspects of Russia’s rich cultural and spiritual legacy.”

“Without a doubt, he did not intend to praise imperial logic or the leaders he mentioned in connection with specific historical periods,” Bruni added.

Nevertheless, the Pope’s comments have delighted the Kremlin, which is currently waging an imperialist and genocidal war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian state news agency TASS reported that Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, had commended the pope for his “strong understanding of Russian history.”

“He acknowledges the efforts the state makes to continually pass down this heritage to our youth and to remind them of it. It is truly encouraging that the pope’s words align with these endeavors,” Peskov said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has criticized the Pope’s address as promoting imperialism, which the Kremlin could use to justify the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians and the devastation of hundreds of cities and villages.

In response, the Apostolic Nunciature in Ukraine (the Vatican’s diplomatic mission) released a statement saying that the papal representation “strongly rejects the aforementioned interpretations, as Pope Francis has never endorsed imperialistic ideas” and is their “critic.”

Previously, the Pope repeated a Kremlin propaganda trope that Russia was “provoked” into invading Ukraine by “NATO expansion.”

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