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On Thursday Pope Francis condemned “armed conquest, expansionism and imperialism” and called Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a “war of cruel and senseless aggression”.

“Reconciliation between separated Christians, as a means of contributing to peace between peoples in conflict, is a very timely consideration these days, as our world is upset by a war of cruel and senseless aggression in which many, many Christians are they fight each other, the Pope said to a delegation of Orthodox leaders.

Earlier this week, the Pope denounced a “barbaric” missile attack on a Ukrainian shopping center that resulted in 18 deaths, saying that he carries “dear and martyr Ukraine” in his heart every day.

Pope Francis gives his homily during a Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 6, 2022, in the Vatican City, Vatican.
(AleVatican Pool / Getty Images)

The Pope’s comments this week mark a more forceful condemnation of Russia’s actions since Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24.

He raised eyebrows around the world last month when he suggested to Corriere della Sera that “NATO’s barking at Russia’s door” may have forced Russia to invade.

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Then in an interview published on June 18, the Pope stated that the war was “perhaps in some way provoked or not prevented”.

“Someone at this point can tell me: but you are in favor of Putin! No, I am not,” he told the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica. “It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good and bad, without thinking about the roots and interests, which are very complex.”

The Vatican has tried to maintain relations with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a key ally of Putin.

Russian Orthodox head Patriarch Kirill, left, and Pope Francis speak during a meeting at Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cuba, in February 2016.

Russian Orthodox head Patriarch Kirill, left, and Pope Francis speak during a meeting at Jose Marti Airport in Havana, Cuba, in February 2016.
(Photo Adalberto Roque / Piscina via AP)

Pope Francis and Kirill met in Cuba in 2016, marking the first time a pontiff and leader of the Russian Orthodox Church have met in person since the Great Schism of 1054.

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The two were supposed to meet in Jerusalem earlier this month, but the Vatican canceled the trip in April.

Pope Francis said in May that Kirill must be careful not to “turn into Putin’s altar boy”, prompting criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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