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Pope Francis criticized for Ukraine 'white flag' remarks

March 10, 2024

Ukraine and its allies denounced the pope for not condemning Russia while calling for Kyiv to negotiate.

 Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square during Sunday prayers
Pope Francis called on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia two years into its invasionImage: Alessandra Tarantino/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Pope Francis has come in for fierce criticism over remarks that Ukraine should have what he called the courage of the "white flag" and negotiate an end to the war with Russia

The head of the Catholic Church made the remarks in an interview recorded last month with Swiss broadcaster RSI, but partially released on Saturday.

It sparked widespread criticism from Ukraine and its allies, as many interpreted it as a call for Ukraine to surrender.

What did the pontiff say?

"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.

He went on to say that many, including Turkey and others, wanted to mediate in the war in Ukraine.

"Do not be ashamed to negotiate," Francis pleaded.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni later explained that the journalist interviewing Francis used the term "white flag," thus, the pope used it in his answer.

He said the pope supported a "diplomatic solution for a just and lasting peace" and that a negotiation is "never a surrender."

Ukraine and allies denounce remark

Ukraine slammed Pope Francis's call to negotiate with Russia two years into its invasion, vowing "never" to surrender.

"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," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.

It echoed a statement by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who said Sunday that Ukrainians do not consider surrender a possibility.

"Ukraine is wounded but unconquered! Ukraine is exhausted, but it stands and will endure. Believe me, it never crosses anyone's mind to surrender. Even where there is fighting today: listen to our people."

Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt of Germany's Green Party told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) that nobody wants peace more than Ukraine.

"It is Vladimir Putin who can end the war and the suffering immediately — not Ukraine," she said.

Another German politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the German parliament's defense committee, said as a Catholic she was ashamed of the pope's comments.

"Before the Ukrainian victims raise the white flag, the Pope should loudly and unmistakably call on the brutal Russian perpetrators to take down their pirate flag — the symbol of death and Satan."

It is similar to the call made by Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

"How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine? Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

lo/mm (AP, dpa, KNA)