International News

Pope Tells Russian Orthodox Leader There’s no Such Thing as ‘Just War’

By Elise Ann Allen, Senior Correspondent

ROME (Crux)  — In a videoconference with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has been increasingly supportive of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Pope Francis said Wednesday that there is no such thing anymore as a “just war,” and that as pastors of the same Christian faith, the patriarch and pope should “unite our efforts … to help the suffering, to create paths to peace, and to put out the fire.”

Pope Francis and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, speak by video with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, March 16, 2022. Also pictured is Ukrainian Franciscan Father Marek Viktor Gongalo. (Photo: CNS/Vatican Media) 

The remarks were communicated in a Vatican statement Wednesday evening Rome time. The video conference came after rumors had circulated that Kirill had blocked attempts by Pope Francis to speak directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus,” Pope Francis said, according to the Vatican statement.

In what was seemingly a nod to Russian suffering as a result of the war in addition to that of Ukraine, Pope Francis said, “Those who pay the bill for the war are the people, it is Russian soldiers and it is the people who are bombed and die.”

“As pastors we have the duty to stay close and to help all the people who suffer from war,” Pope Francis said. “At one time we also spoke in our churches of holy war or just war. Today we cannot speak like that. The Christian conscience has developed on the importance of peace.”

“The churches are called to contribute to strengthening peace and justice … Wars are always unjust, because the ones who pay are the people of God,” Pope Francis said. “Our hearts cannot help but cry in front of the children, the women killed, all the victims of the war. War is never the way. The spirit that unites us asks us as pastors to help the peoples who suffer from war.”

In a communique published to their website, the Moscow Patriarchate also said that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis had spoken via “remote communication.”

Representatives of the Orthodox Church joining Kirill on the call included Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the patriarchate’s department for external church relations, and a representative of the department’s office for inter-Christian relations identified as I.A. Nikolaev.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, center, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, participate in a video meeting with Pope Francis and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, March 16, 2022. (CNS photo/courtesy Russian Orthodox Church)

On the Vatican side, Pope Francis was joined by Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Father Jaromir Zadrapa, a member of the same department.

According to the patriarchate’s statement, Partriarch Kirill “cordially greeted” Pope Francis and expressed his “satisfaction with the possibility of organizing a conversation.”

“A detailed discussion of the situation on Ukrainian soil took place,” the patriarchate said, saying particular attention was paid “to the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis” as well as actions taken by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church “to overcome its consequences.”

Both parties “stressed the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace,” the statement said, noting that several “current issues of bilateral cooperation” were also discussed.

The phone call is believed to be the first direct contact between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis since the Ukraine war broke out Feb. 24.

It comes less than 24 hours after Ukrainian Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said he believed Kirill had ignored the pope’s attempts to get in touch about Russia’s role in the conflict.

Speaking during a March 15 news conference alongside Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Gudziak said, “I’m convinced that [Pope Francis] has made every effort to speak to Putin and I have some information that he has not gotten responses to his gestures towards Patriarch Kirill.”

“I think that will change,” he said, adding, “I’m hoping the Russian Church leadership will open up and hear the gospel.”

Patriarch Kirill has also faced increased criticism and pressure within his own church and the broader Orthodox community for several statements supporting the war, which he blamed on the West for failing to adequately address Russia’s security concerns.

Four Russian Orthodox priests and a deacon in Amsterdam recently became the first to publicly request separation from the Moscow Patriarchate and to shift to the Patriarchate of Constantinople due to Kirill’s position on the war.

The conversation between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis comes amid increased doubts that a rumored second meeting between the two will happen this year.

In a recent interview, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin — who is celebrating a special Mass for peace in Ukraine in St. Peter’s Basilica Wednesday — cast doubt on the possibility of a Pope-Patriarch meeting, saying Patriarch Kirill’s recent remarks “do not favor and do not promote an understanding” on the situation.

“On the contrary, they risk aggravating spirits even more and going towards an escalation and not resolving the crisis in a peaceful way,” he said.

Asked about the potential second meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, which was rumored to take place sometime between June and July, Cardinal Parolin said, “This situation is complicated. We’ll see.”

Cardinal Parolin has repeatedly emphasized the Vatican’s willingness to help negotiate a ceasefire, however, there is no indication yet that the Holy See is being taken up on that offer.