The ukrainian question: John Paul II vs. Francis

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Pope John Paul II did not want to give Ukraine over to Moscow, he wanted it to become part of Europe. What does Pope Francis want?

Without John Paul II’s 9-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, the fall of communism starting in Poland could have ended much more tragically, or, in another scenario, communism could have reigned on for decades more. John Paul II became known as the spiritual leader against communism because of his ability to restore human dignity and human spirituality in people which had been so brutally taken away by the regime. During his 1979 pilgrimage and throughout his papacy, John Paul II fought communism not necessarily by fighting the communists directly, but rather by fearlessly proclaiming the truth about man. He knew that communism did not provide the conditions that allow human beings to live out life as they were called to by God. Marxism had the human anthropology wrong, and John Paul II recognized this. He saw that the “doctrine of the person was the Achilles’ heel of the Polish Communist regime” and the communist system as a whole.[1]

John Paul II’s message of proclaiming the truth and dignity of man continued into Ukraine when the Pope visited in 2001 from the 23rd of June to the 27th of June, 21 years ago.

John Paul II’s visit to Kiev, Ukraine in 2001, source: pl.aleteia.org

John Paul II: “I come among you, dear citizens of Ukraine, as a friend of your noble Nation.”

During the 5-day pilgrimage, he reminded Ukrainians of their dignity and value as persons created in imago Dei, God’s own image and likeness. It was critical to do so as he recognized, like the Poles, all the hardships degrading the human person Ukrainians had faced after decades of enduring the Nazi and Soviet regimes. Despite the famine, oppression, death, and, most recently at the time, Chornobyl, John Paul II came to send a message of hope. He reminded them of the values Ukrainians proudly stood for as well as their bravery, he reaffirmed their Christian and national identity, and he proclaimed that it was in fact the Ukrainians and not the Russians who were leading the “dialog between Catholics and the Orthodox church.”[2] Furthermore, the Pope showed his respects by speaking Ukrainian during his visit, quoting their national, famous poets in his sermons, and encouraging Ukrainians to no longer feel constrained to old Soviet ways.

In 1991 Leonid Kuchma, a pro-Russian supporter, was the President of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians were losing their faith that Ukraine could ever become an independent nation as Kuchma made his people feel that there was a “post-colonial syndrome with an inferiority complex towards their Russian neighbors.”[3] John Paul II provided Ukraine with renewed hope by reminding them that, “Kyiv is not the younger sister of Moscow but vice-versa.”[4] Furthermore, he highlighted that “Russia’s baptism came within the Grand Duchy of Kyiv in 988 at a time when Moscow did not exist.”[5] His goal was to remind Ukrainians that Ukraine is ultimately a part of Europe and that they have a clear-oriented European orientation. John Paul II states this in his first speech of the trip upon landing at the Kyiv airport:

Ukraine has a clearly European vocation, emphasized also by the Christian roots of your culture. My hope is that these roots will strengthen your national unity, bringing the life-blood of authentic and shared values to the reforms now underway. May this land continue in its noble mission, with the pride expressed by the poet just quoted [Taras Shevchenko] when he wrote: “Nowhere in the world is there another Ukraine, nowhere is there another Dnieper”. You who live in this Land, do not forget this![6]

Thus, twenty-one years later, it is sad to say John Paul II’s words still ring true. He states in his farewell ceremony in Lviv:

Thank you, Ukraine, who defended Europe in your untiring and heroic struggle against invaders. […] Even if you still feel the painful scars of the tremendous wounds inflicted over endless years of oppression, dictatorship and totalitarianism, during which the rights of the people were denied and trampled upon, look with confidence to the future. This is the opportune time! This is the time for hope and daring! My hope is that Ukraine will be able fully to become a part of the Europe which will take in the entire continent from the Atlantic to the Urals. As I said at the end of that year 1989 which was of such great importance in the recent history of the continent, there cannot be “a peaceful Europe capable of spreading civilization without the interaction and sharing of the different though complementary values” which are characteristic of the peoples of East and West. 

[…]

To you, land of Ukraine, I renew my wish for prosperity and peace. You have left unforgettable memories in my heart! Goodbye, friendly people, whom I embrace with sympathy and affection! Thank you for your heartfelt welcome and hospitality, which I shall never forget!”7]

It seems to be that the Pope felt great sympathy towards Ukraine because he himself lived through two totalitarian regimes and further recognized that Poland and Ukraine’s history is very much intertwined. He saw the hardships of Poland reflected also in Ukraine. However, Ukraine obviously is much more influenced, connected, and prone to the atrocities of Russia due to their common history (Russian empire and later part of Soviet Union), cultural similarities, and geographical location. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security advisor, was quoted saying, “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” [8] This is why, as stated by Stanisław Dziwisz, “A free Ukraine is needed for Europe, and the world.” [9] If John Paul II were alive today, it is safe to assume that he would continue to defend the same ideals as he did in 2001, if not with more urgency now than ever before.

 

Pope Francis: “NATO barking at Russia’s door.”

Latin rite Bishop Vitaliy Krivitsky of Kyiv has recently made a calm and clear statement stating that “It would be an immense pleasure to welcome Pope Francis to Kyiv. But at the moment I believe that there are no conditions for the visit.”[10] This due to security concerns but also due to the fact that Pope Francis has made some controversial statements causing Ukrainians and others to question his position on the war. Krivitsky continues, “some portion of the [Ukrainian] population did not take kindly to certain of the Pope’s words, which were held to be errant.”[11] Although Krivistky did not mention the exact statements the Pope made, they are well-known. In a piece published by La Civiltá Cattolica, he stated, “There are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys here, in an abstract way. Something global is emerging, with elements that are very intertwined with each other.”[12] Clearly, there is one side killing and destroying unprovoked while the other side is simply defending their sovereignty.

Although Pope Francis has condemned “the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops” he has yet to recognize Putin as the instigator and Russia as the aggressor who invaded its neighbor without casus belli, the justification for war.[13] Perhaps the Pope would not like to worsen relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church and, therefore, is aiming to remain “neutral” by spreading a message of love and peace. However, if this is the case, then he should not suggest that NATO facilitated the war because the alliance was “barking at Russia’s door.”[14] In reality, it was Russia that began barking at Ukraine’s door starting in 2014. Furthermore, the Pope caused more controversy by stating that he was “too far away” to answer whether “it is right to supply Ukrainians” with weapons.[15] Understandably, weapons are tools of death; however, it is only right and just that the same force that is being invoked onto Ukraine should be the same amount, if not more, of force retaliated from Ukraine.

The Pope kissed the flag of Ukraine brought from Bucza, source: theworldnews.net

Still, it should be recognized that the Pope, in his own way, has also been a supporter of Ukraine. He claimed that the “Ukrainian Azov Sea port city had been ‘barbarously bombarded and destroyed” and “condemned the massacre of Bucha” by kissing a Ukrainian flag sent from Bucha.[16] He stated, “Recent news from the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, brought new atrocities, such as the massacre of Bucha,”[17] Pope Francis also showed his condolences by consecrating Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother, Mary. However, the Pope sparked controversy only weeks after on Good Friday during a stations of the cross procession by allowing a Ukrainian nurse and Russian nurse to walk and hold together a wooden cross. Although controversial, his intent of this was to spread a message of peace to proclaim that neither Russians nor Ukrainians want this war. Despite kind intents, for many, the response of the Holy See and its “moral authority” has been believed to be inadequate thus far. Pope Francis has voiced that he wants to visit Ukraine but is waiting to visit “at the right time.”

Krivitsky would still also like to eventually welcome the Pope to Ukraine but believes that it would first be “necessary to reconstruct a ‘consensus’ around his journey.”[18] Furthermore, Krivitskiy also believes that the Holy See can still “play a fundamental role as mediator between us [Ukraine] and Russia.”[19] He continues, “the negotiations need ‘conciliators’ and the pope is [one], although some here consider him super partes (nonpartisan).”[20] It is understandable that the role of the Pope is to be a person of peace; however, his recent statements lack condemnation and cause confusion. Therefore, it is no surprise that Francis has been perceived as taking Russia’s side although Francis clearly states that, “It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing.”[21] Regardless of what one’s take is on the Pope’s recent statements; he does continue to ask the world to remember Ukraine and its people who are on their fourth month of the war.

Let’s not forget the battered Ukrainian people at this time, a people that is suffering. I would like to invite you all to ask yourselves a question: what am I doing today for the Ukrainian people?. Do I pray? Do I act? Do I try to understand? What do I do today for Ukrainians? Answer that question within your hearts.”[22]

 

 

Bibliography

Adamczyk, Grzegorz. “Pope John Paul II’s Message to Ukrainians Remains Relevant to This Day.” Remix News, April 19, 2022. https://rmx.news/poland/pope-john-paul-iis-message-to-ukrainians-remains-relevant-to-this-day/.

Allen, Elise Ann. “Kyiv Bishop Warns against Papal Visit, Says Francis No Longer Seen as ‘Non-Partisan’.” Crux, June 19, 2022. https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2022/06/kyiv-bishop-warns-against-papal-visit-says-francis-no-longer-seen-as-non-partisan.

Altieri, Christopher R. “Opinion: Pope Francis Flounders on the Ukrainian Front.” Catholic World Report, June 19, 2022. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/06/19/pope-francis-flounders-on-the-ukrainian-front/.

Bordoni, Linda. “Pope: ‘Ask Yourselves What You Are Doing for the People of Ukraine?’.” Vatican News, June 19, 2022. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-06/pope-francis-ukraine-appeal-angelus-solidarity-war.html.

John Paul II. “Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Farewell Ceremony – International Airport, Lviv (June 27, 2001): John Paul II.” Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Farewell ceremony – International Airport, Lviv (June 27, 2001) | John Paul II, June 27, 2001. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/june/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010627_ucraina-departure.html.

John Paul II. “Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Welcome Ceremony – Boryspil International Airport, Kyiv (June 23, 2001): John Paul II.” Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Welcome ceremony – Boryspil International Airport, Kyiv (June 23, 2001) | John Paul II, June 23, 2001. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/june/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010623_ucraina-arrival.html.

Kengor, Paul, and Robert Orlando. The Divine Plan. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2019.

Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7dHzSFlR_o&t=2271s.

Muniz, Luanna. “Pope Francis: Russian War in Ukraine Was ‘Perhaps Provoked’.” POLITICO. POLITICO, June 14, 2022. https://www.politico.eu/article/pope-francis-says-war-in-ukraine-perhaps-provoked-or-unprevented/.

Pullella, Philip. “Pope Kisses Ukrainian Flag, Condemns ‘the Massacre of Bucha’.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, April 6, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/pope-holding-ukrainian-flag-condemns-atrocities-such-massacre-bucha-2022-04-06/.

Wojcik, John. “Pope Suggests NATO Facilitated War by ‘Barking at Russia’s Door’.” People’s World, May 5, 2022. https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/pope-suggests-nato-facilitated-war-by-barking-at-russias-door/.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando, The Divine Plan (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2019).

[2] Grzegorz Adamczyk, “Pope John Paul II’s Message to Ukrainians Remains Relevant to This Day,” Remix News, April 19, 2022, https://rmx.news/poland/pope-john-paul-iis-message-to-ukrainians-remains-relevant-to-this-day/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Paul II, “Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Welcome Ceremony – Boryspil International Airport, Kyiv (June 23, 2001): https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/june/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010623_ucraina-arrival.html.

[7] John Paul II, “Pastoral Visit to the Ukraine: Farewell Ceremony – International Airport, Lviv (June 27, 2001):  https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/june/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010627_ucraina-departure.html.

[8] Masters, Jonathan. 2020. Council on Foreign Relations. February 5. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia

[9] Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7dHzSFlR_o&t=2271s.

[10] Elise Ann Allen, “Kyiv Bishop Warns against Papal Visit, Says Francis No Longer Seen as ‘Non-Partisan’,” Crux, June 19, 2022, https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2022/06/kyiv-bishop-warns-against-papal-visit-says-francis-no-longer-seen-as-non-partisan.

[11] Christopher R Altieri, “Opinion: Pope Francis Flounders on the Ukrainian Front,” Catholic World Report, June 19, 2022, https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/06/19/pope-francis-flounders-on-the-ukrainian-front/.

[12] Elise Ann Allen, https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2022/06/kyiv-bishop-warns-against-papal-visit-says-francis-no-longer-seen-as-non-partisan.

[13] Ibid.

[14] John Wojcik, “Pope Suggests NATO Facilitated War by ‘Barking at Russia’s Door’,” People’s World, May 5, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/pope-suggests-nato-facilitated-war-by-barking-at-russias-door/.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Philip Pullella, “Pope Kisses Ukrainian Flag, Condemns ‘the Massacre of Bucha’,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, April 6, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/pope-holding-ukrainian-flag-condemns-atrocities-such-massacre-bucha-2022-04-06/.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Christopher R Altieri, https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/06/19/pope-francis-flounders-on-the-ukrainian-front/.

[19] Elise Ann Allen, https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2022/06/kyiv-bishop-warns-against-papal-visit-says-francis-no-longer-seen-as-non-partisan.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Luanna Muniz, “Pope Francis: Russian War in Ukraine Was ‘Perhaps Provoked’,” POLITICO (POLITICO, June 14, 2022), https://www.politico.eu/article/pope-francis-says-war-in-ukraine-perhaps-provoked-or-unprevented/.

[22] Linda Bordoni, “Pope: ‘Ask Yourselves What You Are Doing for the People of Ukraine?’,” Vatican News, June 19, 2022, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-06/pope-francis-ukraine-appeal-angelus-solidarity-war.html.

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