Pope Francis has declared mankind is experiencing the outbreak of World War Three.
In his address to Polish-speaking pilgrims at the end of his weekly audience in the Vatican yesterday, the pontiff encouraged prayers ‘in a special way’ for the people of Ukraine.
‘Today we are experiencing the third.
‘May the memory of past experiences spur you to cultivate peace in yourselves, in families, and in social and international life.’
In April, Francis said humanity is moving towards WWIII like it is ‘unavoidable’, and he has frequently warned of imminent global conflict.
It comes as the Vatican moved to defend Francis from allegations that he has not come down hard enough on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The church said the pontiff clearly views the war launched by Moscow as ‘senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious’.
Last week, Ukraine summoned the top papal diplomat to complain about recent comments by Francis.
At an audience a day earlier at the Vatican, Francis had referred to a national Russian TV commentator who was killed by a car bomb in Moscow as a ‘poor girl’.
Francis was speaking about Darya Dugina, the daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin, who fiercely backs the war.
Russia has accused Ukrainian intelligence of involvement in the bombing, which Kyiv denies.
In his remarks, Francis also said orphans in Ukraine and Russia were among the ‘innocents’ victimised by the ‘insanity of war’.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba summoned the Vatican ambassador to Kyiv last week and told reporters that ‘the Ukrainian heart is torn apart by the Pope’s words’.
In a statement the Vatican said: ‘In recent days, public discussions have arisen about the political significance to attribute’ to comments by Francis.
‘The words of the Holy Father on this dramatic question should be read as a voice raised in defence of human life and of the values linked to that, and not taken as a political position,’ the Vatican said.
‘As for the war of wide dimensions in Ukraine, begun by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.’
On the day Ukraine condemned the Pope’s remarks, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church cancelled a meeting with him planned for September.
Francis has said he wants to go to Ukraine if it could further the cause of peace but logistics have made the trip impossible for the 85-year-old pontiff who has mobility issues.