null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

St. Louis, Mo., Apr 10, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

A spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry criticized the Vatican’s decision to have the words of two young people from Ukraine and Russia read aloud during Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross, held at the Colosseum in Rome, as part of prayers for peace in Ukraine. 

Pope Francis has called for peace in Ukraine on numerous occasions, but the Ukrainian official said the juxtaposition of the words of the two young people was not “conducive to reconciliation” because it did not acknowledge Russia’s role as the aggressor in the war. 

“We are deeply grateful to Pope Francis for his concern for Ukraine and Ukrainians. Unfortunately, we are forced to state that this year’s Procession was once again overshadowed by an attempt to equate the victim and aggressor … We are disappointed that the Holy See did not take into account the arguments of the Ukrainian side about the offensive nature of such a gesture,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, wrote in an April 8 Facebook post. 

“The joint participation of a Ukrainian and a Russian distorts the reality in which Russia plunged Ukrainians, embodying genocide against them … Trying to put an equal sign between Ukraine, which is suffering, and Russia, which is causing suffering, is not conducive to reconciliation. Reconciliation can only come after a Ukrainian victory, punishment of all Russian criminals, repentance for the suffering caused and a request for forgiveness from Ukrainians.”

The pope generally leads the Good Friday Way of the Cross service at the Colosseum, but this year Pope Francis did not attend due to the cold weather, instead following the meditations for the Way of the Cross from his residence, the Casa Santa Marta. The pope was recently hospitalized for what the Vatican said was bronchitis. 

At the 10th station, which commemorates Jesus being stripped of his clothes, the words of two young boys, one Ukrainian and one Russian, were read out. The Ukrainian boy wrote about fleeing from the besieged city of Mariupol to Italy before the family eventually returned to Ukraine, where “the situation continues to be hard: there is war on all sides, the city is destroyed.” The young Russian wrote about learning of the death of his older brother, and praying to Jesus that “there be peace in the whole world and let us all be brothers and sisters.”

This is not the first time the Ukrainian leaders have taken issue with the Vatican’s words about Russia’s war in Ukraine. Last year’s Way of the Cross stirred controversy when it was announced that it would feature Ukrainian and Russian families carrying the cross together. The original text of the meditation for the 13th Station of the Cross reflected on the horror of war, without mentioning Ukraine by name. The original plan was strongly criticized by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who described it as “untimely.” In the end, no reflection was read in favor of a moment of silence while the cross was held by two friends, Irina, from Ukraine, and Albina, from Russia.

Also, in August 2022, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See criticized Pope Francis for lamenting a car bombing that killed the daughter of an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The ambassador, Andrii Yurash, took issue with the pope’s characterization of the woman killed as an “innocent victim.”

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