Pope did not intend to glorify Russian imperialism in speech, Vatican says

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  • The Vatican said Pope Francis did not intend to "exalt imperialist logic" in his speech Friday.
  • The Roman Catholic church leader faced backlash after he told a group of young people to remember they are the heirs of past czars and thanked them for their "way of being Russian."
  • The speech was strongly criticized by Ukrainian officials.

Pope Francis did not intend "to exalt imperialist logic," the Vatican said Tuesday, after a speech delivered on Friday drew criticism for references to Russia's imperialist past.

"In the off-the-cuff greetings to some young Russian Catholics in recent days, as is clear from the context in which he pronounced them, the Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference," the Vatican's press officer said, in Google-translated comments carried by official outlet Vatican News.

The Roman Catholic church leader faced backlash after he told a group of young people via video address to remember that they are the heirs of past czars, some of whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously referred to when justifying the invasion of Ukraine.

"You are heirs of the great Russia — the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, the great Russian empire, cultured, so much culture, so much humanity," Pope Francis said in the Friday speech, as translated and transcribed by NewsFromUkraine.

"You are the heirs of the great mother Russia. Go forward ... And thank you. Thank you for your way of being Russian," he added.

The speech was strongly criticized by Ukrainian officials.

"It is precisely with such imperialist propaganda, the 'spiritual ties' and the 'need' to save 'great Mother Russia' that the Kremlin justifies the killing of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of Ukrainian cities and villages," Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said Monday on Facebook.

Russian officials meanwhile welcomed the religious leader's comments.

"The Kremlin welcomes the words of the Pope of Rome about the legacy of great Russia, it is good that the pontiff knows Russian history," spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in his daily update Tuesday, as reported by state media agency Tass on Telegram, according to a Google translation.

The pope delivered the prepared speech in his native Spanish, before making these off-script comments in Italian.

The pope has previously repeatedly called for a cease-fire in the war in Ukraine and spoken against Russia's actions in the conflict. In May, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Kyiv leader later said the pair discussed how to bring Russia's war in Ukraine to a peaceful conclusion. Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to the religious leader for "his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians."

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