April 10 (UPI) — Pope Francis urged for Russia and Ukraine to make an Easter truce as people in the war-torn country prepare for the Christian holy week.
The pope’s comments came during his recitation of the Angelus prayer from St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday, according to Vatican News, a state-run broadcaster owned by the Holy See.
Before the war caused millions of Ukrainians to flee the country, there were about 35 million Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, according to a 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center. Nearly 80% of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox Christian and another 10% identified as Catholic.
“Let the weapons be put down! Let the Easter truce begin,” Pope Francis said.
The pope clarified that he did not wish for Russia and Ukraine to “pick up the combat again” after the religious holiday and said that what is required is “a truce that will lead to peace, through real negotiation, that is even disposed to some sacrifice for the good of the people.”
“I am accompanying you with prayer and I encourage all parties to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible for the good of the country, especially of the poorest, respecting the rights of everyone and of the institutions,” he said.
The pope has been an outspoken critic of the “sacrilegious” war in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February. Last week, he said that the people of Ukraine had been “martyred” after revelations that Russian forces may have executed civilians in Bucha.
In March, the pope called the Russian invasion an “unacceptable armed aggression” and urged for a diplomatic end to the war.
In his statements, Pope Francis expressed horror over “the barbarity of the killing of children” and unarmed civilians and urged for an end to the invasion “before it reduces cities to cemeteries.”
The Catholic News Agency noted that Pope Francis’ mass on Sunday was the first public liturgy in St. Peter’s Square since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.