Pope Francis told Ukrainian bishops to avoid politicizing their role in the face of the ongoing conflict in the country. He made the comment in a text handed out to the bishops during their Ad Limina visit this week.
Ukranian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told reporters earlier in the week his goal, and the goal of his brother bishops, was to tell the pope “the truth” about the situation in Ukraine. Pope Francis told the bishops focus on the humanitarian and social realities of the situation and avoid getting involved in politics.
For Archbishop Shevchuk the truth of the situation is that there 2 million Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of the conflict. This week the United Nation said more 5,358 people have been killed and 12,235 wounded since last April. According to Archbishop Shevchuk, most of the dead are civilians.
In advance of his meeting with the pope, the Archbishop told reporters he intended to make clear that the conflict is not a civil war but “the direct aggression of our neighbours.”
Some critics have claimed the Holy See is using terminology in line with Russia’s position on the situation in order to preserve good relations with the Orthodox Church. During a recent general audience Pope Francis called for a dialogue to end the conflict. According to the Italian transcript of his comments released by the Vatican, Pope Francis referred to the conflict as “a war between Christians.” He said “you have the same baptism. you are fighting among christians.”
In the text Pope Francis distributed to the Ukranian bishops on Thursday, he said they have a right as citizens of Ukraine to express their thoughts on the future of the country, but they should promote any concrete political action.
The pope called for unity among Christians in the country in dealing with the human tragedy caused by the conflict. He also said economic problems and income disparity need attention.
Reiterating the statements he made at a recent general audience, Pope Francis asked for the cease-fire to be respected.