Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Vatican has apologized after Pope Francis' comments on ethnic groups in the Russian army.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has received an apology from the Holy See after the Pope’s remarks about the Buryats and Chechens, reports Russian news agencyRIA Novosti, which attended a press conference with the ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, on December 15, 2022. Pope Francis caused an uproar in Russia after he spoke about the cruelty of these ethnic minorities, who are part of the Russian military, in an interview with America magazine published on November 28.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said she had received a message through diplomatic channels from the Cardinal Secretary of State of the Holy See, Pietro Parolin, in which he apologized to Russia. “The Holy See treats with deep respect all peoples of Russia, their dignity, faith and culture, as well as other countries and peoples of the world,” Cardinal Parolin stated, according to Zakharova.
Contacted by I.MEDIA, the Holy See Press Office confirmed that “there have been diplomatic contacts in this sense.”
“We believe that the incident is over and we look forward to continued constructive interaction with the Vatican,” the Russian spokeswoman assured.
Pope Francis’ remarks on the Buryati and the Chechens
Pope Francis had angered many Russians with his comments in an interview where he said that “generally, the cruelest [amongst the Russian troops] are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on.”
While these words were undoubtedly intended to nuance the Russian troops’ reputation of indiscriminate violence, and thus to send an indirect signal of openness towards Moscow, the effect was the opposite. Zakharova denounced the Pope’s words as a “perversion of the truth” and accused him of wanting to divide the Russian forces. “We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country,” she added.
Several political and religious leaders from these regions had also condemned the Pope’s remarks. The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Pontiff was a “victim of propaganda and the persistence of foreign media.”
The Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, whose “humanism” the Pope has often said he appreciates, also protested to the Vatican diplomatic services. “I expressed outrage at such insinuations and stressed that nothing can shake the cohesion and unity of the Russian multinational people,” he told RIA Novosti.
Pope’s love for Russia
The Pope has tried in some sense to defend the Russian people on other occasions. Returning from Bahrain in November, he said about Ukraine and Russia that he is “in the midst of two peoples that I love.”
He said that he speaks of Ukraine as “tormented” because of the “cruelty” they are experiencing in the war.
This cruelty, the Pope contended, “is not of the Russian people, perhaps … because the Russian people are a great people; [instead the cruelty is caused by people who] are mercenaries, soldiers who go off to war as an adventure, mercenaries … I prefer to think of it this way because I have a high esteem for the Russian people, for Russian humanism. Just think of Dostoevsky, who to this day inspires us, inspires Christians to think of Christianity.”
These “defenses,” on the other hand, have caused consternation with the Ukrainians. Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said he told the Pope that in Ukraine they say he has “not read Dostoevsky properly.”
The Pope used to be a literature teacher, and often cites the Russian author.