VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday kissed a battered Ukrainian flag that he said was brought to him from the “martyred” Ukrainian city of Bucha as he denounced the “massacre” there and called again for an end to the war.
Francis held the flag as he welcomed a half-dozen Ukrainian refugee children up to the stage of the Vatican audience hall at the end of his Wednesday general audience and gave them each a giant chocolate Easter egg. He urged prayers for them and for all Ukrainians.
“The recent news from the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, brought testimony of new atrocities, like the massacre in Bucha, even more horrendous cruelty carried out against civilians, defenseless women and children,” he said.
“They are victims whose innocent blood cries up to the sky and implores that this war be stopped, and that the weapons be silenced. Stop disseminating war and destruction.”
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He held up a dirtied Ukrainian flag that he said had arrived Tuesday at the Vatican from Bucha, where evidence has emerged since the Russians pulled out of what appears to be intentional killings of civilians.
Kissing it, the pope said: “This flag comes from the war, from that martyred city Bucha. … Let us not forget them. Let us not forget the people of Ukraine.”
And gesturing to the children, Francis said: “These children had to flee to arrive in a safe place. This is the fruit of war.”
Francis has amplified his outrage at the Russian invasion after his initial tepid response, though he has refrained from citing Russia or President Vladimir Putin by name in keeping with Vatican diplomatic tradition.
Francis has sought to keep open a path of dialogue with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Putin-allied Patriarch Kirill. Speaking to reporters en route home from Malta last weekend, Francis said he was working on organizing a second meeting with the patriarch, who has seemingly justified the war by evoking Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and describing the conflict as a “metaphysical” battle against the West and its “gay parades.”
He said a Mideast location was possible, and the Vatican confirmed Tuesday that a June visit to Lebanon was under study, suggesting a possible encounter there.
During his weekly catechism lesson, Francis lamented that the war made clear the failure of the United Nations and the post-World War II international system of peace and security.
“After the Second World War they tried to lay the foundations for a new history of peace, but unfortunately — we do not learn — the old story of competing great powers continued,” he said. “And, in the current war in Ukraine, we are witnessing the impotence of United Nations organizations.”