By NICOLE WINFIELD and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA – Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has sent a ceremonial greeting to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, assuring him of prayers on his patron’s feast day and stressing the value of human life and wisdom, as the Vatican insists on maintaining cordial relations amid the war in Ukraine.
The Moscow Patriarchate’s website published the brief greetings Francis sent to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Cyril to mark Tuesday’s feast day for Saint Cyril, an important saint for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, especially in Slavic countries.
“In these days I pray to our Heavenly Father for the Holy Spirit to renew and strengthen us in the ministry of the gospel, especially in our efforts to protect the value and dignity of every human life,” wrote Francois.
He also asked for the “gift of wisdom” from God.
The moderate tone was evidence of the Vatican’s attempt to maintain relations with Kirill, a policy that has come under increasing criticism from the head of the Polish bishops’ conference. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki returned from a visit to Ukraine this week and called on the Vatican to change its “naive and utopian” policy, saying it won’t work in the long run.
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In an interview with the Polish Catholic news agency KAI, Gadecki said it was a “noble” goal to start a dialogue with Moscow. “But this is not accompanied by sufficiently serious reflection on the part of the Vatican,” he said.
Kirill justified the invasion on spiritual and ideological grounds, calling it a “metaphysical” battle with the West. He blessed soldiers going into battle and invoked the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.
Francis’ three-sentence note to the Orthodox leader made no mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or even a generic call for peace. That said, it was a formal greeting marking a religious observance; Francis has, in his public remarks, frequently denounced the war and the loss of life.
Gadecki, of the Polish bishops’ conference, acknowledged that the tradition of Vatican diplomacy is not to call the aggressors and to seek at all costs to keep a channel of dialogue open in the hope of pushing for a peaceful solution.
In the case of Ukraine, the Vatican was also keen not to antagonize the Russian Orthodox Church, having worked for decades to improve relations that culminated in a historic meeting between Francis and Cyril in Havana in 2016.
“But today, in the war situation…it is very important that the Holy See supports Ukraine at all levels and is not led by utopian thoughts,” Gadecki said.
Francis mentioned the war at the end of his weekly general audience on Wednesday. Addressing Polish pilgrims, he called for prayers for peace in Ukraine and for God “to teach us to show solidarity with those affected by the tragedy of war” and to find reconciliation between nations .
Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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