Pope Francis appealed to the faithful to pray and fast for Ukraine on Ash Wednesday, March 2, saying that the threat of war had caused “great pain in my heart.”
“Despite the diplomatic efforts of the last few weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are opening up,” said the Catholic Church leader during his weekly General Audience from the Vatican on February 23.
“Once again the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests,” he said as he appealed to those “with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God.”
He also prayed that “all the parties involved refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing coexistence between nations, and bringing international law into disrepute.”
“I encourage believers in a special way to dedicate themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on [Ash Wednesday],” said the pope at the end of his weekly General Audience in the Vatican.
The pope’s comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on February 21 that he would recognize the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent entities.
The regions, which are run by Russian-backed separatists, include land currently held by the Ukrainian armed forces.
Western countries responded to the announcement by unveiling sanctions targeting Russian banks and politicians.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a meeting, scheduled for Thursday, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, saying that it served no purpose as the US believes that Russia is beginning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities.
The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020. But recently Russia has sent at least 150,000 troops to the Ukrainian border.
“Jesus taught us that the diabolical evil of violence is answered with the weapons of God, with prayer and fasting,” said Pope Francis in his address.
This is the second day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine that Pope Francis has called since the crisis began to escalate in 2022.
Pope Francis has a long-standing connection with Ukraine. During a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic community in Rome in 2018, he recalled that a Ukrainian bishop in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires had taught him when he was 12 years old how to be an altar server at Eastern Rite liturgies and read the Ukrainian alphabet.
As pope, he has consistently shown his concern for Ukrainians. In 2016, he launched a charitable project, called “The Pope for Ukraine,” that has helped more than a million people.
He presided last month over a worldwide day of prayer for peace in Ukraine.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has repeatedly expressed the hope that Pope Francis will visit Ukraine.
The 85-year-old pope outlined ambitious travel plans for 2022 last fall but did not mention Ukraine as a possible destination. – with a report from Catholic News Agency