Pope Francis sent his condolences to Gorbachev's daughter; the last USSR president died at age 91 on August 30
Hailing “his far-sighted commitment to concord and brotherhood among peoples,” Pope Francis paid tribute to the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a telegram addressed to his daughter Irina Gorbacheva and released by the Vatican press office on August 31, 2022. The former Soviet leader, who held power from 1985 to 1991, died on August 30 in a Moscow hospital at the age of 91.
“Spiritually close in this moment of grief at the death of your father, the honorable Mikhail [“honorable” being a title traditionally attributed to political leaders in the Italian language, ed.], I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to you, all family members, and those who saw him as a respected statesman,” Pope Francis wrote.
“Recalling with gratitude his far-sighted commitment to concord and brotherhood among peoples, as well as the progress of his own country in an age of important changes, I raise prayers for his repose, invoking from God, good and merciful, eternal peace for his soul,” the Argentine pontiff added in the short message.
The former Soviet president, although declaring himself an atheist, expressed his questioning about the existence of God after the death of his wife Raissa in 1999.
Marking a clear break with his predecessors, both in terms of the substance and the form of exercising power, Mikhail Gorbachev opened the way to religious freedom and freedom of conscience, authorizing in particular the public celebration of the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia in 1988.
He had a meeting with John Paul II at the Vatican on December 1, 1989, during which the two men showed their good mutual understanding with a view to building a “Common European Home” three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Contacts between the Polish pope and the last Soviet leader continued in the following years, although the plan for a papal visit to Moscow never materialized.
Reactions to Gorbachev’s death were numerous, with the president of the German episcopate recalling that “the world would be different today if it were not for him and his courageous intervention to bring down the Berlin Wall.”
The 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner was popular in the West, but his record remains much more contested in Russia and Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine and Lithuania, where he remains associated with the Red Army’s repression of protests calling for the independence of these then-Soviet territories.