Pope Francis discussed the Ukraine war on Wednesday with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The pope and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia addressed the conflict during a video conference call on March 16.
The conversation, which took place in the early afternoon Rome time, was first reported by the Patriarchate of Moscow and later confirmed by the Holy See press office.
“The conversation centered on the war in Ukraine and the role of Christians and their pastors in doing everything to ensure that peace prevails,” the press office said.
The Vatican noted that the pope thanked Patriarch Kirill for the meeting and agreed with him that “the Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus.”
“We are shepherds of the same Holy People who believe in God, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God: that is why we must unite in the effort to help peace, to help those who suffer, to seek ways of peace, to stop the shooting,” the press office quoted Pope Francis as saying.
It added that the two leaders agreed on the importance of current negotiations to end the war.
“Those who pay the bill for the war are the people, it is the Russian soldiers and it is the people who are bombed and die,” the pope said.
“As pastors,” he continued, “we have a duty to stay close and help all the people who are suffering from the war. There was a time when even in our Churches we talked about holy war or just war. Today we cannot speak like that. The Christian conscience of the importance of peace has developed.”
The Holy See press office said that the pope agreed with Patriarch Kirill’s observation that the Churches must help to build peace and justice.
Pope Francis concluded: “Wars are always unjust. For the one who pays is the people of God. Our hearts cannot help but weep before the children, the women killed, all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit that unites us asks us as pastors to help the peoples who suffer from war.”
Giving its account of the discussion, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) said that the talks included “a detailed discussion of the situation on Ukrainian soil.”
“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 to overcome its consequences,” it said.
“The parties stressed the utmost importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing the hope that a just peace would be achieved as soon as possible.”
“Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill also discussed a number of current issues of bilateral interaction,” the DECR said.
The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kirill at Havana airport in Cuba on Feb. 12, 2016, in the first meeting between a pope and a Patriarch of Moscow.
Hopes of a second encounter rose at the end of 2021, when the pope received Metropolitan Hilarion at the Vatican.
Patriarch Kirill has received appeals from Catholic bishops across Europe to speak out against the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24.
Among those who have called on him to intervene to end the war are Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Irish bishops, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).
Pope Francis has sought to strengthen Catholic-Orthodox ties since his election in 2013.
He has formed a close bond with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians.
But the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2018 after Bartholomew I confirmed that he intended to recognize the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Pope Francis announced on Tuesday that he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.