Pope on Kiev Lavra: Warring parties must respect religious places

Francis' appeal at the general audience for the Russian Orthodox nuns who are the object of political contention in the conflict in Ukraine: "Consecrated persons are a support for the people of God". In the catechesis, the pontiff dwelt on the meaning of being apostles today. "The relationships between us are also decisive for evangelisation".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis spoke today on the political clash taking place around the Kiev Lavra, the caves where the oldest monastic institution of Russian Orthodoxy is based, now hostage to the conflict in Ukraine. "I am thinking of the Orthodox nuns of the Kiev Lavra," Francis said at the end of the general audience, addressing the faithful present in St. Peter's Square. "I ask the warring parties to respect the religious places. The nuns and people consecrated to prayer, whatever denomination they belong to, are the support of God's people'.

In recent days, Moscow Patriarch Kirill had appealed to Francis and UN Secretary General Guterres to "prevent the expulsion of monks" from the Lavra, against which there have also been demonstrations in Kiev.

After the end of the Soviet Union, the complex came under the ownership of the Ukrainian government with an agreement of free use by the monks of the Moscow Patriarchate, which today - in the context of the ongoing war - Kiev does not want to renew. Although, Culture Minister Aleksandr Tkacenko declared in recent hours that "the monks will be able to remain in the Lavra, under certain conditions" and that "there will be no forceful action" against them.

Earlier, in his weekly catechesis, Pope Francis had continued his reflection on the topic of zeal in evangelisation by dwelling on "what it means to be an apostle today". "Sometimes we call some saints, or more generally bishops  'apostle' . But are we aware that being an apostle concerns every Christian, and therefore also each one of us?" the pontiff asked.

"Apostle,' he explained, 'means to be sent on a mission. The event in which the Risen Christ sends his apostles into the world, passing on to them the power he himself received from the Father and giving them His Spirit, is exemplary and foundational," the pope commented. "Everything depends on a gratuitous call from God; God also chooses us for services that at times seem to exceed our capacities or do not correspond to our expectations; the call received as a gratuitous gift must be answered gratuitously."

In this framework, citing some documents of the Second Vatican Council, Francis invited to also look at the collaboration of the laity with the hierarchy, which is not "a mere strategic adaptation to new emerging situations", but something that has its own value. "The diversity of charisms and ministries," he added, "the diversity of charisms and ministries must not give rise, within the ecclesial body, to privileged categories: here there is not a promotion, and when you conceive of Christian life as a promotion, that the one who is above commands all the others because he has succeeded in climbing, this is not Christianity.".

Hence the invitation to "ethink may aspects of our relations, which are decisive for evangelization. For example, are we aware of the fact that with our words we can undermine the dignity of people, thus ruining relationships within the Church? While we try to engage in dialogue with the world, do we also know how to dialogue among ourselves as believers? Or in the parish, one person goes against another, one speaks badly of another in order to climb up further? Do we know how to listen to understand another person’s reasons, or do we impose ourselves, perhaps even with appeasing words?"

"Let us not be afraid to ask ourselves these questions," Francis concluded,"these words can help us to confirm how we live our baptismal vocation, how we live our way of being apostles in an apostolic Church, which is at the service of others."