ROME — A Good Friday evening procession, led by the Pope, in which a Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman will carry a cross together, is facing opposition from Ukrainians who describe it as “incomprehensible” and “inadequate.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See also protested the decision to have the women take part in the annual Stations of the Cross, which recalls the stages of Christ’s crucifixion.
The two women, Ukrainian nurse Irina and Russian nursing student Albina, who are friends, are expected to shake hands silently while holding the cross.
Andrii Yurash, Ukranian ambassador to the Holy See, wrote on Twitter that there were “concerns in Ukraine and other communities” and said he was “working to try to explain the difficulties and possible consequences.”
The Greek Catholic Archbishop of Kyiv Sviatoslav Shevchuk called the idea “inappropriate and ambiguous, and does not take into account the context of Russian military aggression against Ukraine.”
In a statement on Tuesday, he said the gesture was “incoherent and even offensive, particularly as we await the second, more bloody attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages.”
Shevchuk said that numerous Ukrainian Catholics had asked him to “transmit to the Holy See their indignation and rejection of this project.” For them, reconciliation “will be possible only when the war is over and those guilty of crimes against humanity have faced justice,” he said.
Pope Francis has long sought to improve relations with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox church, a key backer of President Vladimir Putin, who has sanctioned the war. Although Francis has condemned the invasion itself as “sacrilegious,” he has avoided directly criticizing Putin by name, instead labeling him as “some potentate.”
The bishop of Kyiv for the Latin rite, Monsignor Vitalii Kryvytsky, told Italian religious news agency Sir that he “shared the pain of his compatriots” and had done everything he could “to make plain the inadequacy of this liturgic gesture, in the context of this horrible war and its possible planned exacerbation.”
The apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, the Vatican equivalent of an ambassador, Monsignor Visvaldas Kulbokas, said he had communicated the Ukrainians’ protests to the Holy See. He explained the decision saying that “under the cross we are all children of god, aggressor and attacked, in this case Russia and Ukraine.”
“The churches and religious organizations in Ukraine wish to work towards reconciliation, however they know that they will only be able to talk about it when the aggression stops.”
The Vatican press office did not respond to calls on Friday.