September 1, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10779

Russian And Ukrainian Reactions To The Pope's Statements About 'The Enlightened Russian Empire' And 'The Great Mother Russia'

September 1, 2023
Russia, Ukraine | Special Dispatch No. 10779

On August 25, 2023, during a video call 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."[1]

Though Russians praised the Popes' statements, the criticism it brought in Ukraine led to the Holy See Press Office issuing 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 are reactions from Russia and from Ukraine to the Pope's statements:

Russian Reactions

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zakharova: Moscow "Highly Appreciates The Vatican's Balanced Line"

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "[Moscow] highly appreciates the Vatican's balanced line on the Ukrainian conflict and the efforts of the Holy See and Pope Francis personally aimed at a peaceful settlement, which unfortunately are openly rejected by the Kiev regime."[2]

Kremlin Spokesman Peskov: "The Pope Knows Russian History"

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "The Pope knows Russian history, and that is very good. [Our history] is quite deep; its roots go very deep," Peskov said, noting that this heritage is not limited to 18th-century sovereigns Peter I and Catherine II, but "is much older."

Ukrainian Reactions

Ukrainian FM Nikolenko: "It Is Very Unfortunate That Russian Great-Power Ideas... Are Voiced By The Pope"

Ukrainian media outlet wrote about Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko's reaction: "[Nikolenko] recalled that it is precisely this kind of imperialist propaganda, 'spiritual bonds'[3] and the 'need' to save 'great Mother Russia' that the Kremlin uses to justify the murder of thousands of Ukrainian men and women and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages. 'It is very unfortunate that Russian great-power ideas, which are in fact the cause of Russia's chronic aggressiveness, are consciously or unconsciously coming from the mouth of the Pope, whose mission, in our understanding, is to open the eyes of Russian young people to the destructive course of the current Russian leadership,' Nikolenko noted."[4] Vatican News Removed The Pope's "Particular Passage"

Ukrainian media outlet wrote: "Interestingly, Vatican News, the information portal of the Holy See, has posted the text of the Pope's address on its website, but this particular passage is missing. However, a video of part of the Pope's address containing this quote is available online.

"The Pope's words were immediately criticized also by the Ukrainian media and Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, stated that Pope Francis's statements 'inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country.'"[5]

Head Of The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: Pope Francis' Statements "Inspire The Neo-Colonial Ambitions Of The Aggressor Country"

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, stated that Pope Francis's statements "inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country:" "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."[6]

Ukrainian Top Manager Dmytro Shymkiv: The Pope "Is A Sort Of An Embodiment Of The Global South"

Ukrainian top manager Dmytro Shymkiv, former deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration in 2014-2018, stated: "[The Pope] is a sort of an embodiment of the Global South, which is fascinated with Russia, this is incomprehensible fact to me... The Global South has always been against empires. Even weirder is their fascination with modern Russia, which epitomizes the lowest of the low, the worst imperialist example."[7]

Radio Host Dmitro Tuzov: Pope Francis Is "Morally Co-Responsible For The Genocide Of Russians Against Ukrainians"

Ukraine's NV Radio host Dmitro Tuzov said that after such words on part of the pontiff, he perceives Pope Francis to be "morally co-responsible for the genocide of Russians against Ukrainians:" "The current Pope Francis is fueling Russian chauvinism and supporting Russian Nazism and Russian propaganda narratives about the 'greatness of Russia' during a time of war and killings of our fellow citizens... This very damn 'greatness' has already led to the most global catastrophe of our time – the war unleashed by Russian Nazis against peaceful Ukraine that threatens no one," Tuzov also added that Pope Francis serving as the head of the Vatican, "inspires Russians to commit new crimes in Ukraine."

Former Minister Of Education: Is The Pope "Uneducated" And "Irresponsible"?

Former Minister of Education of Ukraine and ex-president of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Serhiy Kvit said: "Is the Pope simply uneducated and irresponsible, or the initiator of a radical change in values in the Vatican?"

European Solidarity Party Deputy Sofia Fedyna: The Pope's Statement Is A "Manifestation Of Cynicism"

European Solidarity party deputy Sofia Fedyna stated: "Commenting on the words of the pontiff, I believe that talking about the greatness and humanity of Peter I during a teleconference with St. Petersburg comes as a very particular manifestation of cynicism, because Peter I built this city on the bones of Ukrainians. It is also cynical to talk about the greatness and humanity of Catherine II, when under her rule the status of a serf was de facto no different from that of a slave. In order to speak of the Moscovia Federation[8] as a 'country of educated culture and great humanity' one must somehow surprisingly 'forget' about the 12 wars unleashed by Muscovy since 1991 alone, and about the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed in defiance of the commandment 'thou shalt not kill.'"[9]


[2], August 29, 2023

[3] "Spiritual staples" is a common expression, meaning the values that bind Russia together into a unified country. This expression has been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

August 29, 2023.

[5], August 28, 2023.

August 29, 2023.

[8] Derogatory term for the Russian Federation.

August 29, 2023.

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