As fighting intensifies in Ukraine, Pope Francis took advantage of his world pulpit to plead for a ceasefire and a return to dialogue.
At the conclusion of his weekly General Audience Wednesday, Pope Francis made a special appeal on behalf of the people of the Ukraine.
“Once again, my thoughts go to the beloved Ukrainian people,” he said. “Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse and the conflict between the parties is escalating. Let us pray for the victims, including many civilians and their families, and ask the Lord to swiftly bring this horrible fratricidal violence to an end.”
Recent reports reveal that fighting in eastern Ukraine has left as many as 16 civilians dead and dozens more injured in the space of only 24 hours. This brings the total death toll to more than 5,300 lives, with about 2,000 of these after September’s ceasefire.
According to Ukraine’s army, five soldiers have also died fighting pro-Russian rebels near the town of Debaltseve.
In his words Wednesday, the Pope also renewed his “heartfelt appeal” that every effort be made, including on an international level, “for the resumption of dialogue, the only way to restore peace and harmony in that tormented land.”
The worsening conflict in Ukraine may provoke the U.S. to rethink its own policies of non-interference in the struggle. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Ukraine this week to meet with President Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian leaders, while policymakers debate Washington’s decision not to supply weapons to Ukraine.
On Monday, a senior U.S. official told Agence France-Presse, “What’s being discussed is perhaps we should begin providing defensive weapons, defensive equipment, to Ukraine.”
Faced with modern Russian tanks, Ukraine has, above all, been requesting antitank weaponry to defend themselves.
When the Pope had finished his appeal Wednesday, he put aside his papers and continued speaking to the crowds off the cuff:
Brothers and sisters, when I hear the words “victory” or “defeat” I feel a great pain, a great sadness in my heart. They are not the right words. The only right word is “peace.” This is the only right word. I think of you, my Ukrainian brothers and sisters. But think about it, this is a war between Christians! You all have received the same baptism! You are fighting fellow Christians. Think about this, this scandal. And let us all pray, because prayer is our protest before God in time of war.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.