On August 25, 2023, during a video link-up with participants at the Russian Youth Day in St. Petersburg, Pope Francis said: "You are heirs of the great Russia, the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great, enlightened Russian empire, of so much culture, so much humanity. Never set aside this legacy. You are heirs of the great Mother Russia, so go forward and thanks for your way of being and for your mode of being Russians."
The words were immediately criticized by the Ukrainian media and Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, stated that Pope Franci's statements "inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country."
As a result of the criticism, the Holy See Press Office had to issue a press release, stating: "In the words of greeting addressed to several young Russian Catholics a few days ago, as is clear from the context in which he pronounced them, the Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote what is positive in Russia's great cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialistic logics and governmental personalities, cited to indicate certain historical periods of reference."
Following is the statement of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Galych, about Pope Francis' remarks:
"The Worst Example Of Imperialism And Extreme Russian Nationalism"
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"Statement of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Head and Father of the UGCC, regarding the discussion regarding some of the statements of the Holy Father Francis at the meeting with the Catholic youth of Russia on August 25, 2023"
"It is with great pain and concern that we learned of the words attributed to His Holiness Pope Francis at an 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 evaluations, let alone support of Russia's imperialist ambitions. Nonetheless, we share the great pain which they caused, not only among the episcopate, clergy, monastics, and faithful of our Church, but also among other denominations and religious organizations. At the same time, we are also aware of the deep disappointment that they have caused in society.
"The words about 'the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that great, enlightened empire – a country of great culture and great humanity' – are the worst example of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism. There is a danger that these words could be taken as supporting the very nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today – a war that brings death and destruction to our people every day.
"The examples given by the Holy Father actually contradict his teachings on peace, since he has always condemned any form of manifestation of imperialism in the modern world and warned of the dangers of extreme nationalism, stressing that it is the cause of the 'third world war in segments.'
"As a Church, we wish to state that in the context of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, such statements inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country, even though such a way of 'being Russian' should be categorically condemned.
"In order to avoid any manipulation of the intentions, context and statements attributed to the Holy Father, we await a clarification of this situation from the Holy See.
"The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, together with all citizens of our country, condemns the ideology of the 'Russian world' and the entire criminal way of 'being Russian.' We hope the Holy Father will hear our voice.
"In a few days, the bishops of our Church will come together in Rome for the annual Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. We will have the opportunity to meet His Holiness and personally convey to him the doubts and pain of the Ukrainian people, trusting in his paternal care for them."
 Cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2023/08/church-and-state-in-ukraine-blast-pope-for-praising-great-mother-russia, August 29, 2023.
 Vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2023-08/holy-see-press-office-pope-francis-russia-youth-day-encouragment.html, August 29, 2023.
 Ugcc.ua/en/data/head-of-the-ugcc-responds-to-controversy-over-pope-francis-comments-during-the-meeting-with-catholic-youth-in-russia-578/, August 28, 2023.