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Pope Francis admits his words about Russia were inappropriate

Pope Francis.
Pope Francis admits his words about Russia were inappropriate

Pope Francis explained what he meant when he spoke about “great Russia” to Russian youth on 25 August 2023.

Pope Francis admitted that mentioning Russian emperors in his speech online to participants of the X All-Russian Day of Catholic Youth in Saint Petersburg was inappropriate, Vatican News reported. Pope Francis said that he remembered Peter the Great and Catherine the Great from school and improvised when he mentioned them in his speech.

Speaking to journalists on board the plane on his way back from Mongolia, Pope Francis said that he did not mean to protect imperialism but wanted to talk about culture, Vatican News reported.

“For example, Russia has a great heritage in the field of literature, in the field of music, up to Dostoevsky, who today speaks to us of a mature humanism. So that they [Russian youth – ed.] could take on this humanism that was developing in art and literature. Speaking about the great Russia, perhaps not so much in the geographical sense as in the cultural sense, I remembered what we were taught at school: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. And then this element popped up, which is probably not quite correct. I don’t know. Let historians tell us. But it came to my mind because I studied it at school,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis explained that he was encouraging Russian youth to preserve their country’s heritage because “the Russian heritage is very good and very beautiful.”

On 25 August, addressing Russian catholic youth, Pope Francis praised the legacy of the Russian empire, which caused sharp criticism in Ukraine and other countries. The new edition of the Polish magazine Wprost was published with an ironic cover on which Pope Francis rides among the ruins of a Ukrainian city destroyed by Russian bombs.

A cover of the Polish magazine Wprost dedicated to Pope Francis.
Credit: Wprost.

“Never forget your heritage. You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, that empire of great culture and great humanity. Never give up this heritage. You are the descendants of the great Mother Russia, so go forward with it. And thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian,” Pope Francis said in his speech to participants of the X All-Russian Day of Catholic Youth in Saint Petersburg on 25 August.

Vatican News, the official website of the Vatican, has posted the text of the Pope’s address, but the passage in question was removed from it. At the same time, a video excerpt of the Pope’s speech with this quote is still available online.

In 2022, Pope Francis recognized Russia as the aggressor in the war against Ukraine,  condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and called Ukrainian people “martyrs” who face the “cruelty” of Russian troops.


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