Pope Francis’ ‘white flag’ comment criticized by Ukrainian and allied officials

Pope Francis’ ‘white flag’ comment criticized by Ukrainian and allied officials


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Pope Francis is being criticized by Ukrainian officials for comments made during an interview last month that aired over the weekend, calling for Ukraine to have “the courage of the white flag” and negotiate an end to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

During an interview recorded last month with Swiss broadcaster RSI, which was partially released on Saturday, the pontiff argued that Ukraine should be open to peace talks with Russia, as Ukraine faces possible defeat.

“I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates,” Francis said in response to a question on whether Ukraine should agree to peace talks or if negotiations would legitimize Russia’s aggression toward the country.

Foreign ministers of both Ukraine and Poland condemned Francis’ remarks on social media on Sunday.

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Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Aug. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in his post that the strongest one is the one who stands on the side of good while in the fight between good and evil, instead of attempting to put both sides on the same footing with negotiations.

“When it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican’s strategy from the first half of the twentieth century. I urge you to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to support Ukraine and its people in their just struggle for their lives,” Kuleba said. “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags.”

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The foreign minister thanked the pope for constant prayers for peace, adding that he hopes the pontiff will make an “apostolic visit” to Ukraine in support of its people, both Christian and non-Christian.

Poland’s foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, also weighed in on Francis’ comments.

“How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine,” Sikorski said. “Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations.”

The Associated Press reported that Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, said Sunday that Ukrainians may be exhausted, surrender is not on their minds as they stand against Russia.

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“Believe me, it never crosses anyone’s mind to surrender,” Shevchuk said while speaking with Ukrainians in New York City.

“Even where there is fighting today: listen to our people in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Odesa, Kharkiv, Sumy,” he added, mentioning regions under Russian drone attacks and heavy artillery.

Matteo Bruni, a spokesperson at the Vatican, said Saturday that the pope supported “a stop to hostilities [and] a truce achieved with the courage of negotiations,” instead of an all-out surrender by Ukraine, The AP reported.

Bruni also said the journalist who interviewed Francis used the term “white flag” in the question, which prompted the now controversial remarks.

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A Ukrainian flag waves in a residential area heavily damaged in the village of Dolyna in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine after the withdrawal of Russian troops on September 24. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Francis has attempted to maintain diplomatic neutrality, as is tradition at the Vatican, throughout the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Still, the pontiff’s stance has been met with what could be interpreted as sympathy with Russia’s rationale for invading Ukraine, including when Francis noted that NATO was “barking at Russia’s door” with its eastward expansion.

Francis said during the interview with RSI that “negotiations are never a surrender.”

“When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate,” the pope said.

On Sunday, as Francis conducted the Angelus prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he said he was praying for peace in the “tormented Ukraine and in the Holy Land.”

“Let the hostilities which cause immense suffering among the civilian population cease as soon as possible,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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