ROME (AP) – Pope Francis on Friday condemned the “perverse abuse of power” in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for help to Ukrainians who he said were attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and “defended their land.”

In his comments to the meeting of representatives of European Catholics, Francis noted his strongest statements in defending Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state and to defend against Russian invasion.

It came just days after Francis told Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, that the concept of “just war” was outdated because wars were never justified and that pastors should preach peace, not politics.

These comments on Wednesday during a video call with Cyril were an indirect blow to the patriarch’s visible defense against the war. Cyril, close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, seems to justify the invasion, describing it as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades.” He accused the West and one of the Orthodox patriarchs of inciting hostility between Ukraine and Russia and reiterated Putin, insisting that they were “one people.”

In his comments on Friday, Francis did not name Russia by name, a testament to the Vatican’s tradition of not identifying aggressors and its attempts to maintain an open dialogue with the Church of Cyril. But Francis strongly supported Ukraine.

“The terrible cry for the help of our Ukrainian brothers pushes us, as a community of believers, not just to think seriously, but to cry with them and work for them; to share the sufferings of the people wounded by their identity, history and tradition, ”František said at a meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“The blood and tears of children, the suffering of women and men defending their land or fleeing bombs, shake our conscience. Mankind is once again threatened with a perverse abuse of power and party interests, which condemns defenseless people to all forms of brutal violence.

On March 25, Francis will celebrate Mass during which he will dedicate Russia and Ukraine to the Virgin Mary in a ritual of profound significance for Catholic believers. According to tradition, one of the so-called mysteries of Fatima concerns the dedication of Russia to the “Immaculate Heart of Mary”, prophesying that in the event of consecration there will be peace.

On Friday, the Vatican confirmed that Francis had invited all the bishops and religious abbots of the world to join him in prayer during the consecration ritual, giving the act a universal dimension. In addition, on the same day one of Francis’s chief aides, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, will celebrate the Mass of Consecration in Fatima, Portugal, the site of the Marian apparitions of the early 20th century, which formed the basis of the “mysteries of Fatima. ”

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