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ROME – Pope Francis Tuesday closed the month of May with a special rosary for peace in the world as the war in Ukraine drags on, causing not only incalculable death and destruction, but also creating splinters throughout global Orthodoxy.
The rosary was recited Tuesday evening in front of the statue of Mary, Queen of Peace in the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major. May, in the Catholic Church, is traditionally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The last time Pope Francis led a livestream rosary was in spring 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19 in Italy, when the country’s death toll was nearing its peak.
In his brief opening prayer, Pope Francis said the church had gathered before Mary “to beg you with faith for the great gift of peace.”
He asked that global conflicts, which for decades have been raging in different parts of the world, “and which has now also invaded the European continent, may end soon.”
Peace, he said, “cannot just be the result of negotiations, nor simply the consequence of political agreements, but it is above all the paschal gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“We have consecrated to your immaculate heart the country at war, and we have asked for the great gift of the conversion of peoples,” he said, voicing confidence that “with the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and with your grace, the hearts of men and the entire world can change.”
“Today we lift our hearts to you, Queen of Peace. Intercede for us to your son, reconcile hearts full of violence and revenge. [Redirect] thoughts blinded by the desire for an easy solution,” he said, asking that peace be bestowed upon the world.
Typically, the month of May is closed with a special walking rosary concluding at the Lourdes grotto inside the Vatican Gardens, making the pope’s decision to hold a special rosary at the papal basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary exceptional.
St. Mary Major is a favorite for Pope Francis. He visits the basilica before and after every international trip to pray in front of the famed Maria Salus Populi Romani icon housed in one of its chapels.
Francis’s appeal for peace comes as the war in Ukraine has surpassed its third month following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. So far, an estimated 12.8 million people have been displaced by fighting, with around 5 million have sought refuge abroad in surrounding countries.
The appeal also comes as the European Union prepares to roll out a fresh package of sanctions against Russia on Monday, which includes an embargo on most Russian oil imports and adds Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to its group of blacklisted individuals.
Since the beginning of the war, Kirill has backed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military advances and has issued vocal support of the war, which he says is being waged in a bid to fight the moral degradation of the West and to defend Russia’s national security interests.
Kirill’s position on the war has caused splinters throughout the Orthodox world, with many Russian Orthodox clergy and hierarchs launching petitions for Kirill to denounce the war, and advocate for its end.
Earlier this week, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine-Moscow Patriarchate, which for years has been loyal to Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church, adopted measures to sever ties with the Russian Orthodox Church over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The measures were adopted May 27, and announced on Facebook following a special council in Kyiv that focused on “issues that arose as a result of the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.”
“We disagree with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow … on the war in Ukraine,” the statement said.
Archbishop Kliment, a church spokesman, later told Agence France-Presse that the council had articulated its “complete rejection” of Kirill’s position on the war, saying, “Not only did he fail to condemn Russia’s military aggression, but he also failed to find words for the suffering Ukrainian people.”
Pope Francis was set to meet with Kirill this summer for the second time, but the encounter was called off due to tensions over the current conflict.
Other international ecclesial bodies have also pressured Kirill over his position, including the World Council of Churches, which has issued two letters asking him to intervene in stopping the war. Given Kirill’s support of the conflict thus far, the WCC is currently evaluating whether to expel the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole during its June assembly.
As a sign of solidarity for Ukrainians impacted by the war, a Ukrainian family and individuals with ties to war victims, as well as a group of military chaplains, were invited to recite the decades of Tuesday’s rosary.
Among those packed inside the basilica for the event were boys and girls who recently received their First Communion and Confirmation, scout groups, members of the Ukrainian community of Rome, representatives of the Ardent Youth Mariana (GAM) group, and members of the Vatican Gendarmerie and the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
Members of the three parishes in Rome dedicated to Mary Queen of Peace, were also present together with several members of the Roman curia.
Marian shrines from around the world also participated, joining remotely through streaming, some of which are located in countries still impacted by war, political instability, and violence.
Shrines that joined remotely through streaming include: the Shrine of the Mother of God (Zarvanytsia) in Ukraine; Sayidat al-Najat (Our Lady of Salvation) Cathedral in Iraq; the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Syria; and the Cathedral of Mary Queen of Arabia in Bahrain.
Others included the Jasna Góra monastery and shrine in Częstochowa, Poland; the International Shrine of Korean Martyrs; the Holy House of Loreto; the International Shrine Our Lady of Knock in Ireland; the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico; and the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in France.
At the end of the rosary, Pope Francis placed a written prayer petition at the base of the statue of Mary, Queen of Peace, asking, “Mother, please, I ask you for the holiness of clergy.”
He also paused briefly to pray in front of the Maria Salus Populi icon before returning to the Vatican.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen