Video message from Pope Francis during the X All-Russian Meeting of Catholic Youth. Photo: Vatican News

Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader on Pope’s remarks on Russia: «inspires neocolonial ambitions»

Statement of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Head and Father of the UGCC, on the debate concerning some of the statements of His Holiness Pope Francis at a meeting with young Catholics in Russia on August 25, 2023.

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(ZENIT News / Kiev, 08.28.2023).- We offer the statement of the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, in communion with the Pope, following some statements made by the Supreme Pontiff at a meeting with young Catholics on the evening of Friday, August 25, via video-call. The words have caused controversy in the context of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The Pope said specifically in one part of the speech: «Never forget your roots. You are the heirs of the great Russia: the great Russia of saints, of rulers, of the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that great, enlightened empire of great culture and great humanity. Never give up this heritage. You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go forward. And thank you. Thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian». This part was omitted from the original communiqué of the Holy See Press Office.


With great pain and concern, we have learned about the words attributed to His Holiness Pope Francis during the online meeting with Russian Catholic youth on August 25, 2023, in St. Petersburg.

We hope that these words of the Holy Father were spoken spontaneously, without any attempt at historical assessment, and certainly not in support of Russia’s imperialistic ambitions. Nevertheless, we share the profound distress they have caused, not only among the bishops, clergy, monks, and faithful of our Church but also among other denominations and religious organizations. At the same time, we are aware of the deep disappointment they have ignited within society.

The words about «the great Russia of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, that grand empire – grand, enlightened, a country of great culture and great humanity» are the worst example of Russian imperialism and extreme nationalism.

There is a danger that these words may be perceived as support for the nationalism and imperialism that have caused the war in Ukraine today, a war that brings death and destruction to our people every day.

The examples cited by the Holy Father are, in fact, contrary to his doctrine of peace, as he has always condemned all forms of imperialism in the modern world and warned of the dangers of extreme nationalism, emphasizing that it is the cause of the «third world war in parts.»

As a Church, we want to affirm that, in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, such statements fuel the neocolonial ambitions of the aggressor country, although we should unequivocally condemn this form of «being Russian.»

To prevent any manipulation of intentions, context, and statements attributed to the Holy Father, we hope that the Holy See will explain this situation.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, along with all the citizens of our country, condemns the ideology of the «Russian world» and all forms of criminal «Russian identity.» We hope that the Holy Father will heed our voice.

In a few days, the bishops of our Church will gather in Rome for the annual Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. We will have the opportunity to meet with His Holiness and personally convey the doubts and pain of the Ukrainian people, trusting in his paternal care for them.

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