The Vatican has responded to fallout from the Pope’s recent comments about “mother Russia” which have been condemned as praise towards the country’s imperialist past.
In a prepared speech, Pope Francis told Russian youths to be “artisans of peace” and to sow reconciliation “in this winter of war.”
However, during an improvised section of his video address the papal reminded Catholic youngsters “you are the heirs of the great Mother Russia.”
“Heirs of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity,” he added.
The Pope's words - published on the website of the Church of the Mother of God in Moscow - provoked protests and criticism from Ukraine as President Putin considers Peter the Great as an example to justify his invasion on the country.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said the pontiff’s comments caused “great pain and concern.”
In a statement he said the Pope’s references to Peter I and Catherine II were the “worst example of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism.”
The Vatican has since sought to bring clarification, saying the Pope never intended to glorify imperialistic thinking.
Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said Francis simply wanted to praise the positive aspects of Russia’s spiritual and cultural history to encourage the next generation to “preserve and promote” these positives.
“Certainly not to exalt imperialistic logics and governmental personalities, cited to indicate certain historical periods of reference" Bruni stated.
Joe Ronan from Catholic Voices tells Premier Christian News the Pope was seeking to build connection with his Russian audience as he addressed youths on Friday:
“One of the titles of the Pope, of course, is pontiff, which means bridge builder. And I think to build bridges, you have to work from sort of both sides of the bank.”
Ronan adds that it’s important not take the Pope’s words out of context: “If you just pick up the pieces where he's talking about Russian history, you get quite a lopsided idea. A lot of what he was doing was saying to the youngsters that their way of being must be very different to everything else, they must be bridge builders, they must be there to preserve and to promote peace.”