Pope Francis speaks out on religious repression in Ukraine — RT Russia and the former Soviet Union

Pontiff called for respect for religious sites after Canonical Orthodox Church monks were ordered to leave their monastery

Pope Francis has expressed concern about the situation in Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra following attempts by Ukrainian authorities to evict monks from the country’s iconic Orthodox Christian site.

Speaking after a general audience on Wednesday, the pontiff said “thinking of the Orthodox monks of the Kyiv Lavra.”

“I ask the belligerents to respect places of worship”, he added, saying that clergy of any denomination “are the support of the people of God”.

His comments came after Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, last week appealed to Christian leaders from various faiths and international organizations over what he described as “a sharp increase in state pressure on Orthodox Christians in Ukraine”.

Referring to kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Kirill called for “all possible efforts to prevent the forced closure of the monastery, which would lead to a violation of the rights of millions of people” of devotees.

On March 10, Ukraine’s Culture Ministry claimed, without providing any evidence, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate violated a 2013 agreement, under which the state allowed them to administer the religious site. The clerics were then ordered to leave the monastery by March 29.

While the clergy refused to comply, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky endorsed the decision, calling the crackdown a “a movement to strengthen our spiritual independence.” This, however, caused outrage in Moscow, with Russian Foreign Minister Maria Zakharova claiming that “freedom of religion is held hostage by bandits” of the Ukrainian government.

For years, Ukraine has experienced religious tensions, primarily between the Kyiv-backed Uncanonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which declared independence from Moscow after the Russia launched its military operation in the neighboring country in February. 2022.

This, however, has not spared him accusations that he secretly supports Russia, and raids have been carried out on many Orthodox monasteries across Ukraine, including the Lavra itself.

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