Pope Francis appealed to Vladimir Putin Sunday to end the “spiral of violence and death” the Russian leader began in February with his invasion of Ukraine.
In his first public address to Putin, the Pontiff also denounced the escalation of brutality in the war and decried the specter of nuclear conflict.
“My appeal is directed above all to the president of the Russian Federation, imploring him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death,” Francis told followers in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square.
During his Sunday address, the 85-year-old religious leader blamed Putin’s war for causing homelessness and leaving families — children especially — to live with cold and hunger.
“This terrible, inconceivable wound of humanity, instead of shrinking, continues to bleed even more, threatening to spread,” Francis said.
Putin announced Friday that he planned to annex Ukrainian territory captured by Russia in the seven months since its invasion and inferred, again, that Russia would be within its rights to defend its own land with nuclear weapons.
“And what to say about the fact that humanity finds itself again faced with atomic threat?” the Pope asked Sunday. “It’s absurd.″
The Catholic leader invoked words like “grave” and “devastating” to describe the violence in Eastern Europe that he said has pained him personally.
“Rivers of blood and tears spilled these months torment me,″ Francis confessed.
It is unusual for the Pope to directly condemn specific political leaders or policy positions. But on Sunday, he told worshipers that he felt compelled to address the horrors in Ukraine in lieu of a traditional religious sermon.
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In addition to urging Putin to cease fire and engage in peace talks, Francis expressed hope that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy would engage his nation’s aggressor at the bargaining table.
“Pained by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people following the aggression undergone, I direct a similarly trusting appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious proposals of peace,″ he stated.
Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, telling his nation he wished to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine,” which meant expelling the nation’s democratically elected Jewish president. The war was pitched to Russians as a “special military operation” that many military experts thought would be over in weeks.
A formidable combination of Western funding, Russian military inaptitude and fierce Ukrainian resistance is credited for stopping and, in some cases, rolling back advances made by Putin forces.
The office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported last week that 14,844 civilians had been either killed or injured since Russia attacked Ukraine. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates Russia has lost up to 80,000 troops in its offensive. Zolenskyy told the BBC in June that as many as 200 of his soldiers were dying daily in defense of their country.
On Sunday, the Pope said, “The war itself is an error and a horror” and lamented the fact that people worldwide have come to know cities like Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol only as places that have hosted “indescribable” atrocities.
With News Wire Services