VATICAN— Expressing great sadness at the worsening situation in Ukraine, Pope Francis asked world leaders on Wednesday to “make a serious examination of conscience before God.”
Speaking at his live-streamed general audience on Feb. 23, the pope called for people to fast for peace on March 2, Ash Wednesday, praying that “the Queen of Peace will preserve the world from the madness of war.”
“I have great pain in my heart over the worsening situation in Ukraine,” Pope Francis said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
“Despite the diplomatic efforts over the past few weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are opening up. Like me, many people throughout the world are feeling anguish and concern. Once again the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests.”
“I would like all those who have the political responsibility to make a serious examination of conscience before God, who is the God of peace and not of war … He wants us to be brothers and not enemies. I pray that all parties involved will refrain from any action that will cause even more suffering for people, destabilizing coexistence among nations and undermining international law.”
The pope’s comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a televised address on Feb. 21 that he would recognize the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent entities. The regions, which are run by Russian-backed separatists, include land currently held by the Ukrainian armed forces.
Western countries responded to the announcement by unveiling sanctions targeting Russian banks and politicians.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a meeting, scheduled for Thursday, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, saying that it served no purpose as the U.S. believes that Russia is beginning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities.
The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020. But recently Russia has sent at least 150,000 troops to the Ukrainian border.
“And now, I would like to appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers alike. Jesus taught us that the diabolical evil of violence is answered with the weapons of God, with prayer and fasting,” Pope Francis said.
“I invite everyone to make next March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace. I encourage believers in a special way to devote themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day. May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war.”
This is the second day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine that Pope Francis has called since the crisis began to escalate in 2022.
Pope Francis has a long-standing connection with Ukraine. During a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic community in Rome in 2018, he recalled that a Ukrainian bishop in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires had taught him when he was 12 years old how to be an altar server at Eastern Rite liturgies and read the Ukrainian alphabet.
As pope, he has consistently shown his concern for Ukrainians. In 2016, he launched a charitable project, called “The Pope for Ukraine,” that has helped more than a million people.
He presided last month over a worldwide day of prayer for peace in Ukraine.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has repeatedly expressed the hope that Pope Francis will visit Ukraine. The 85-year-old pope outlined ambitious travel plans for 2022 last fall but did not mention Ukraine as a possible destination.
In 2001, John Paul II became the first pope of the modern era to visit Ukraine, which borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.