Edward Lucas: Pope Francis' Russia remarks were 'odd'

Edward Lucas chatting to ERR outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
Edward Lucas chatting to ERR outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Source: ERR

Recent statements made by Pope Francis in respect of Russia and its history are "odd" to say the least, security commentator Edward Lucas says in a piece which appeared on the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) website.

The recent rather infamous address to young people in St. Petersburg, where the pontiff stated that: "You are the heirs of the great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated with so much culture and humanity. Never forget this inheritance. You are the heirs of the Great Mother Russia, go forward," stands out, Lucas argues, in contrast to the visit of John Paul II in 1979, months after he became pope, to his homeland, Poland, which still labored under communism.

The pope then drew vast, adoring crowds, presenting the Poles with a true picture of their country and presenting a more attractive alternative to the regime of Wojciech Jaruzelski.

That pope's exhortation, "Be not afraid," resounded with some of the major Western leaders of the time, and as such would have given momentum to the movement to bring down the Communist empire in Central and Eastern Europe over the next decade or so.

The new papal message is rather different, Lucas argues, referencing a recent visit to Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia.

Pope Francis urged believers in neighboring China to "be good Christians and good citizens," may be well and good, but this has to be set against the reality of the regime there, Lucas writes, as evidenced by the small contingent of Chinese faithful, who had made it over the border into Mongolia, covering their faces, for fear of repercussions.

Catholic bishops in mainland China are only appointed only after approval from the Communist Party of China, and even then were banned from traveling to Mongolia for the papal visit.

While the St. Petersburg comments led to criticism from the head of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop of Kyiv-Galicia Sviatoslav Shevchuk, perhaps unsurprisingly, those same comments were well-received by the Kremlin, whose spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, called the pontiff's knowledge of Russian history "gratifying" and "in unison" with the Russian state's efforts to teach history according to Vladimir Putin's interpretation of it.

While Vatican officials attempted to play down the Pope's remarks subsequently, the damage had been done, Lucas says.

Ultimately, for the Ukrainians, Russian imperialism is a matter, literally, of life and death, while the Vatican's diplomatic and intelligence capabilities should be ahead of such gaffes, Lucas writes.

The original CEPA piece is here.

CEPA states on its website its main aims as fostering a strong and enduring transatlantic alliance rooted in democratic values building networks of future leaders versed in Atlanticism, among other goals.

Edward Lucas is a columnist with The Times and a former senior editor at The Economist. He is a prospective Liberal Democrat candidate ahead of the next U.K. general election, likely to be held in 2024, and was Estonia's first ever e-resident, when the scheme launched nearly a decade ago.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: CEPA

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