Ukrainians at Angelus pray for peace with Pope Francis


ROME – Borys, 14, wore a Ukrainian flag like a cape. He had tears pooling in his eyes: “He said it. He said Russia.”

He was in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, joining Pope Francis and 30,000 people during the Angelus prayer. 

Borys has been to every Angelus since mid-January, when the pope first called for peace in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized his troops on the Ukrainian border. 

Francis’s words were much stronger on March 20. He spoke of a “violent aggression,” a “senseless massacre,” and an “abhorrent war.” He called the conflict “repugnant,” and the lack of value for human life “sacrilegious.”

“Unfortunately, the violent aggression against Ukraine does not stop; a senseless massacre where every day there is a repetition of slaughter and atrocities.” Francis said. “There is no justification for this! I plead with all those involved in the international community to truly commit to ending this abhorrent war.”

But in the eyes of Borys, only one thing mattered: During his remarks, Francis invited “every community and all the faithful to unite with me on Friday 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, for the Solemn Act of Consecration of humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that she, the Queen of Peace, may help us obtain peace.”

The Vatican announced Pope Francis’s decision to consecrate both countries last week. He has subsequently written to bishops from all over the world to join him, and several conferences have already announced their decision to do so, including those of the United States, Argentina and India.

RELATED: Papal consecration of Russia, Ukraine has history of controversy behind it

The consecration itself is important. Yet for this young man who had to grow up too fast after both his father and older brother left the relative comfort they have enjoyed in Rome for the past decade to join the Ukrainian forces in defending their country, what truly mattered was that the pope said “Russia.”

It has long been pointed out that, since this crisis escalated, Francis spoke weekly of the need for peace in Ukraine, denouncing the conflict as senseless, defining the largest country in Europe as a martyr, and urging the international community to act.

“It is a symbol at best, but it means that, when I go to school tomorrow, and we talk about the war, and I mention the heroism of my dad and brother, I won’t have to fend off a mate who says that if Francis truly cared, he’d name the aggressor,” Borys told Crux on Sunday, as he was leaving the square, in the company of his sisters and mother. 

Asked for his last name, he said it “didn’t matter,” because he’s far from being the only one in the Ukrainian community living in Italy who had to answer that question – with many of them actually asking it themselves.

“Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for diplomacy, and I’m a practicing Catholic who’s been coming to the Angelus for quite some time now,” he said. “I know what he has said, and I know that previous popes have been wary when it comes to naming the aggressor.”

“I just couldn’t deal with stupidity from my friends on top of everything else,” he said.

Francis’s mention of Russia followed his denunciation of missiles and bombs falling on civilians, the elderly, children, and pregnant mothers.

“I went to see the wounded children who are here in Rome,” he said, referring to a visit he paid on Saturday to Bambino Gesu hospital, a pediatric institution run by the Vatican in downtown Rome. “One was missing an arm; one had a head injury…innocent children.”

“I think of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who must flee, leaving everything behind, and I feel a great pain for those who do not even have the possibility to escape,” the pope said. “So many grandparents, sick and poor people separated from their own families, so many children and vulnerable people are left to die under the bombs without being able to receive help and find safety even in the air raid shelters.”

All this is inhuman, the pontiff said. 

“Indeed, it is also sacrilegious because it goes against the sacredness of human life, especially against defenseless human life, which must be respected and protected, not eliminated, and this comes before any strategy,” he added. “Let us not forget it is inhuman and sacrilegious cruelty! Let us pray in silence for those who are suffering.”

Francis also praised the local Catholic hierarchy, saying that the people “left under the bombs” don’t lack the closeness of their pastors, who in these tragic days are “living the Gospel of charity and fraternity.” He thanked them for their concrete support and witness, offering courageous help to “desperate people.”

“Let us be close to this people; let us embrace them with affection, with concrete commitment and prayer,” he said. “And please, let us not get used to war and violence. Let us not tire of welcoming them with generosity as we are doing now, not only during the emergency, but also in the weeks and months to come.” 

The pope’s remarks came as Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, doubled down on his efforts to defend a supernatural reasoning behind the war. After the invasion began, the patriarch lauded military service as “an active manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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