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Pope Francis calls for ‘courage of the white flag’ in Ukraine; bishops respond: ‘surrender means death’

March 11, 2024

In an interview with the Swiss broadcaster Radio Télévision Suisse, Pope Francis called on Ukraine to “raise the white flag” and negotiate—leading to a clarification from a Vatican spokesman, rebukes from the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Poland, and an anguished statement from the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Interviewer Lorenzo Buccella asked the Pope, “In Ukraine, some call for the courage of surrender, of the white flag. But others say that this would legitimize the stronger party. What do you think?”

The Pope replied:

That is one interpretation. But I believe that the stronger one is the one who sees the situation, who thinks of the people, who has the courage of the white flag, to negotiate. And today, negotiations are possible with the help of international powers.

The word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate. You may feel ashamed, but with how many deaths will it end? Negotiate in time; look for some country that can mediate. Today, for example in the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to mediate. Turkey has offered itself for this. And others. Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.

Following the broadcast of the interview, which was conducted in early February, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that “the Pope uses the term white flag and responds by picking up the image proposed by the interviewer, to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation. Elsewhere in the interview, speaking of another situation of conflict, but referring to every situation of war, the Pope clearly stated: ‘Negotiations are never a surrender.’”

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, responded:

The strongest is the one who, in the battle between good and evil, stands on the side of good rather than attempting to put them on the same footing and call it “negotiations”. At the same time, when it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican’s strategy from the first half of the twentieth century. I urge to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to support Ukraine and its people in their just struggle for their lives.

Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags.

We thank His Holiness Pope Francis for his constant prayers for peace, and we continue to hope that after two years of devastating war in the heart of Europe, the Pontiff will find an opportunity to pay an Apostolic visit to Ukraine to support over a million Ukrainian Catholics, over five million Greek-Catholics, all Christians, and all Ukrainians.

Poland’s foreign minister, RadosÅ‚aw Sikorski, said, “How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine? Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations.”

“We would like to reflect not upon the Pope’s statement but upon the point of view of the victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.,” the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church responded. “Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death. The intentions of Putin and Russia are clear and explicit.”

The members of the Permanent Synod—led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church—continued:

In Putin’s mind, there is no such thing as Ukraine, Ukrainian history, language, and independent Ukrainian church life. All matters Ukrainian are ideological constructs, fit to be eradicated. Ukraine is not a reality but a mere “ideology.” The ideology of Ukrainian identity, according to Putin, is “Nazi.” By calling all Ukrainians (who refuse to be Russians and accept Russian rule) “Nazis,” Putin dehumanizes them. Nazis (in this case Ukrainians) have no right to exist. They need to be annihilated, killed.

“It is worth mentioning that every Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory leads to the eradication of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, any independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and to the suppression of other religions and all institutions and cultural expressions that do not support Russian hegemony,” the bishops added. “Ukrainians will continue to defend themselves. They feel they have no choice. Recent history has demonstrated that with Putin there will be no true negotiations.”

The prelates concluded:

Notwithstanding the suggestions for need for negotiations coming from representatives of different countries, including the Holy Father himself, Ukrainians will continue to defend freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just. They believe in freedom and God-given human dignity. They believe in truth, God’s truth. They are convinced that God’s truth will prevail.


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