Pope Francis discusses health but again declines to name Putin as Ukraine aggressor

The pontiff again declined to name Russian President Vladimir Putin as the aggressor in the Ukraine war on his flight back to Rome.

Pope Francis greets journalists aboard the papal plane during the flight back to Rome at the end of his two-day apostolic visit to Malta, Sunday, April 3, 2022. (Ciro Fusco /Pool photo via AP)

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (RNS) — Acknowledging that his health is “a little capricious” after visibly limping during his weekend visit to Malta, Pope Francis engaged freely with reporters in the customary impromptu press conference on his return flight but again failed to mention Russian President Vladimir Putin by name in condemning the war in Ukraine.

The 85-year-old pope was seen to be struggling to walk at times during his apostolic visit to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta April 2-3, where he addressed migration, the Ukraine war and corruption

“I have this issue with my knee that creates problems in terms of walking,” Francis said, calling the issue “irritating but getting better.” The pope quipped that “we don’t know how the game will end,” concerning his health.

The pope had to cancel events and trips in the past due to his knee pain caused by sciatica, and in July of last year he underwent surgery for colon diverticulitis. While he seemed to have difficulty at times, this weekend’s trip saw Francis ride ferries, delve into grottos and greet the residents of Malta wherever he went. 

Doctors have encouraged the pontiff not to overwork his knee, but the pontiff has a packed schedule ahead with visits to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and a possible visit to Ukraine, or one of its borders, to address the deteriorating situation there.

“I am willing to do everything I have to do,” the pope said, referring to the possibility of visiting Kyiv. The mayor of Kyiv and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have invited the pope to come and visit the country as a messenger of peace.

“A trip to Ukraine is one of the proposals we received, but I don’t know if it’s convenient,” Francis said, mentioning that he sent the papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewskii, to Poland to promote the pope’s closeness to refugees fleeing the country.

Francis also said that he is considering a meeting in the Middle East with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who has been criticized for his closeness to the Kremlin and his spiritual justifications for the war in Ukraine.

“Every war is born from an injustice, always,” Francis said, referring to his conversation with Kirill last month, in which he shot down the possibility that the invasion met the Catholic Church’s criteria for a just war, adding that Catholic doctrine has developed beyond the concept.

The pope said that Vatican diplomats “are doing everything” to help ameliorate the situation in Ukraine, which has been under attack by Russia since Feb. 24.

RELATED:  ‘I have not forgotten you,’ Pope Francis tells migrants in Malta

While Francis has used strong language in condemning the war, calling it “inhuman”and “a sacrilege,” and referred to a “potentate” as responsible for the conflict, he has so far avoided calling out Putin by name or Russia as the aggressor. During the press conference on Sunday, the pope once again refused to point the finger, instead lamenting the “logic of war” that leads to conflict and amassing weapons.

“The logic of war has imposed itself once again,” Francis said. “We cannot imagine another logic because we are not used to thinking in terms of a logic of peace.”

Francis has spoken to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy twice by phone and with Kirill once. He said he has not spoken to Putin since the two exchanged good wishes for the New Year. On Feb. 25 Francis visited the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, whom he described during the presser “as a representative of the people.”

On the plane, the pope again lamented the failed aspirations for peace that grew out of the end of the Second World War. “Sixty years later we have forgotten the lessons,” Francis said, mentioning the many young people who died in war throughout history. “Youth doesn’t matter. It makes me think and pains me,” the pope said at the end of the press conference. “God have mercy on us, all of us. We are all guilty.”

RELATED: The World Council of Churches must act with courage and expel Kirill, Russian Orthodox Church

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