In Malta, Pope Francis condemns ‘infantile’ aggression of Ukraine

'Once again, some autocrat, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts,' said Pope Francis in an address to the government in Malta.

Malta President George William Vella, right, prepares to deliver his address to Pope Francis in the Grand Council Chamber of the Grand Master's Palace in Valletta, Malta, Saturday, April 2, 2022. Pope Francis headed to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on Saturday for a pandemic-delayed weekend visit, aiming to draw attention to Europe's migration challenge that has only become more stark with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VALLETTA, Malta (RNS) — As war continues in Ukraine, Pope Francis addressed the government in Malta, issuing a stark criticism of the “infantile and destructive aggression” that risks catapulting Europe into another — and potentially nuclear — world war.

“Once again, some autocrat, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts. Whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will be either shared or will not be at all,” the pope said on Saturday (April 2).

“Now in the night of the war that is fallen upon humanity, let us not allow the dream of peace to fade,” he added.

Francis is visiting the Mediterranean island of Malta this weekend, April 2-3, where he has already begun promoting his message of peace, welcome and dialogue. His speech to the Maltese authorities touched on several issues, including corruption, migration and war in Ukraine.

Russian forces began invading the Eastern European country in late February in opposition to the local government led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been open to a rapprochement with the West. Pope Francis has avoided mentioning the role of Russia directly when referring to the war in Ukraine, seemingly to remain above the conflict and possibly act as a mediator in brokering peace.

Answering a question by Vatican reporter Claudio Lavanga aboard the papal flight to Malta, Pope Francis said the possibility of him visiting the bombed capital of Kyiv is “not off the table.” Both Zelenskyy and the mayor of Kyiv have invited the pope to visit and act as a messenger of peace in Ukraine.

Vatican sources have also stated the pope is considering a visit to Poland, which has welcomed the lion’s share of refugees from neighboring Ukraine, following the invitation by local authorities.

While the pope has made numerous appeals for peace in Ukraine, calling for an end of the bloody conflict, his speech to Maltese authorities took direct aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis encouraged “human moderation” as an alternative to “the infantile and destructive aggression that threatens us.”

Francis also condemned the “childishness” that has reemerged in global politics through “the seduction of autocracy, new forms of imperialism, widespread aggressiveness, and the inability to build bridges and start from the poorest in our midst.”

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Remembering the spirit of peace that unified Europe in the wake of the Second World War, the pope lamented the return of “the icy winds of war” that hurt the poorest and most vulnerable especially. Francis also decried how the current “war has in fact been prepared for some time by great investments in weaponry and a massive trade in arms.”

Before leaving for Malta, Pope Francis met with refugee families fleeing Ukraine who are being welcomed by the Catholic lay movement Sant’Egidio, which has been committed to ensuring safe humanitarian corridors for refugees.

“Let us go back to gathering in international peace conferences, where the theme of disarmament will have a central place, where our thoughts will turn to future generations. And where the enormous funds that continue to be destined to weaponry may be diverted to development, health care and nutrition,” Pope Francis said.

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