Ukrainian interfaith group’s efforts a ‘concrete testimony of peace,’ Pope Francis says

Pope Francis meets with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organization Pope Francis meets with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations on Jan. 25, 2023, at the Vatican. | Credit: Vatican Media

Meeting with an interfaith group representing Ukrainian churches and religious organizations today in Rome, Pope Francis expressed his support, calling their efforts a “concrete testimony of peace in a country suffering from war.”

The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) consists of 16 churches and organizations, including the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Since the start of Ukraine’s war with Russia, UCCRO has been leading efforts to help alleviate the suffering within the country.

Now, almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the war has resulted in nearly 18,000 Ukrainian civilians killed or injured, according to a Jan. 2 estimate by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“I give thanks to God because this meeting enables me, in some way, to have close contact with the Ukrainian people, who have always been present in my prayers during these months,” Francis told the delegation.

The pope praised the interreligious nature of the organization, calling it “a grace from God that all these initiatives are decided and carried out together, as brothers.”

“I am with you in defending the rights of the faithful of every religious community,” Francis said, “especially those who suffer abuse and persecution. I am with you in your efforts to assist prisoners and those detained for political reasons. I encourage your efforts to reestablish respect by all for the principles and norms of international law and fundamental human rights.”

Francis expressed his belief that UCCRO’s interfaith efforts prepare Ukraine for a future of peace. 

“Your action, carried out with tenacity and courage, effectively prepares for tomorrow, a tomorrow of peace,” the pope said.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict nears a year in length, a spokesman for the Russian government said on Monday that peace negotiations “are now impossible since there are no conditions for them.” 

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