Pope Francis has said he is considering visiting the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and implicitly criticised Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, over the invasion of Ukraine.
The head of the Catholic church was invited by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, along with Ukrainian religious leaders on 8 March.
At the time of the invitation, the Vatican had confirmed receipt of a letter and said the pope was praying for Ukrainians but made no mention of any travel plans.
But asked by a reporter on the plane taking him from Rome to Malta on Saturday whether he was considering the invitation, Francis said: “Yes, it is on the table.” He gave no further details.
Later, in a hard-hitting speech in the island’s presidential palace, the pope said: “From the east of Europe, from the land of the sunrise, the dark shadows of war have now spread. We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past.
“However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all.
“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared, or not be at all,” he said, without mentioning Putin by name.
The invitation from Ukrainian political leaders has been supported by the major archbishop, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, of Ukraine’s Byzantine Rite Catholic church and Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash.
Francis has previously described Vladimir Putin’s war as a “unjustified aggression” and denounced the “atrocities”, but has been careful not to mention Russian culpability for the war.
On Thursday, the European parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, met Zelenskiy in Kyiv to give the message that the EU would help rebuild the country after the war.
The most high-profile visit so far, however, was undertaken by the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia on 16 March. In a press conference after the meeting, the Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, told Ukrainians: “Europe stands with you.”
Pope Francis, 85, was visiting Malta on Saturday for a two-day trip in an attempt to draw attention to a migration crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
After landing, he used for the first time an elevator to descend from the ITA aircraft on to the tarmac. He was also seated in his popemobile during a tour of the island’s capital, Valletta. Francis has been suffering from a painful knee inflammation for months.
More than 10.5 million people have been displaced either within Ukraine or abroad as refugees, totalling around a quarter of the country’s population. About 13 million people are estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across the country.
Metsola met the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, with Ukrainian refugees on Saturday morning at Otwock school in Warsaw.
She said: “We are impressed by the efforts made by Poland, its communities and citizens. You have given people in need a safe and secure space. This is heartwarming to see it – it is the best of Europe.
“However, Poland has been carrying the largest weight of the consequences of the war outside Ukraine. Therefore, we need more support to Poland and other countries that are receiving and hosting people who are fleeing the war in Ukraine.”