This story was originally published by Religion Unplugged.

On the same day Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a virtual address to Congress, pleading with U.S. lawmakers to help stop Russia’s invasion of his country, Pope Francis was doing his part to try to end the bloody conflict.

The pope — in a private video call from Rome with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church — said religious leaders “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus,” according to the Vatican press office.

Francis’ remarks to Patriarch Kirill — an ally of President Vladimir Putin’s war effort against Ukraine — on Wednesday were the latest in a series of both public and behind-the-scenes moves by the Vatican in recent weeks to broker a ceasefire.

Pope Francis said the war was “unjust” and “never the way” in his call with Kirill, who had previously described the war against Ukraine as part of a struggle against sin from political progressives in Ukraine.

“We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” he said during a March 8 sermon.

Putin’s forces began a military invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on Feb. 24, part of a major escalation in a conflict that had begun in 2014. It is the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.

Francis used his meeting with Kirill to strike a tone of Christian unity and also call for the end of deaths of both Ukrainian civilians and Russian soldiers.

“We are pastors of the same Holy People who believe in God, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God,” Francis told the Russian patriarch. “For this we must unite in the effort to help peace, to help those who suffer, to seek ways of peace, to stop the fire.”

Francis added, “Wars are always unjust. Because the one who pays is the people of God. Our hearts cannot help but cry in front of the children, the women killed, all the victims of the war. War is never the way. The spirit that unites us asks us as pastors to help the peoples who suffer from war.”


At the same time, many Catholic charities are doing their part to raise money and help the people of Ukraine.

“We cannot ignore the tragic humanitarian implications of this war,” Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Aloysius John told the National Catholic Register. “It is the duty of the international community to protect the Ukrainian people and ensure their access to lifesaving assistance.”

Kirill and Francis also spoke about the humanitarian aspects of the war and efforts by both churches to overcome the problems, according to the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church:

“Special attention was paid to the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church for overcoming its consequences. The parties underscored the utmost importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing the hope that a just peace would be achieved as soon as possible.”

The meeting, which falls during Lent, was remarkable given that the men have only met once in person — six years ago in Cuba. That meeting was the first time in 1,000 years that a pope had met with the Russian patriarch.

It was a busy day for Kirill, who also met virtually with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Over the past three weeks, Pope Francis has used his public appearances to call for an end to the war. He used an appearance Wednesday during his general audience at the Vatican to pray for peace.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners. Lord Jesus, born in the shadows of bombs falling on Kyiv, have mercy on us,” the pontiff said. “Lord Jesus, who died in a mother’s arms in a bunker in Kharkiv, have mercy on us. Lord Jesus, a 20-year-old sent to the front lines, have mercy on us. Lord Jesus, who still behold armed hands in the shadow of your cross, have mercy on us!”

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Away from the cameras, the Vatican has been trying to broker peace. Those efforts, spearheaded by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, have included volunteering to mediate potential peace talks between the sides. Parolin also recently held a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov to discuss the escalating conflict.

“We are all grieved and appalled at this war that makes no sense,” Parolin said.

During a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday, Parolin used his homily to “implore from God the gift of peace in Ukraine and to ask him to help every man and woman of goodwill to be peacemakers.”

Parolin also said “prayer is never useless” in the face of war. The comments came days after Pope Francis called for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine.

“Prayer can also change the most desperate situations,” he added. “It can change hearts and minds.”

Written by Clemente Lisi. Lisi is a senior editor and regular contributor to Religion Unplugged. He is the former deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and teaches journalism at The King’s College in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.