From our permanent special correspondent
Calls to fasting and prayer, consideration of the war against a “sacrilege”, identification of children dying under the bombs with the Child Jesus… Since the beginning of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, on the night of February 23 to 24, Pope Francis has multiplied, in parallel with the work of Vatican diplomacy, the messages spiritual goals with a view to achieving peace in the region. By consecrating, on Friday March 25 at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pope Francis is taking a further step in what some do not hesitate to call, in Rome, “the spiritual offensive” from the pope.
The gesture he is about to perform, and which finds its source in the Fatima apparitions in 1917, is indeed intimately linked to the prayer of Catholics for peace. “He responds to the weapons of war with the weapons of prayer”, comments an expert from the Orthodox world close to the Vatican. And it is also in the name of this spiritual dimension that the Pope spoke on Wednesday, March 16, with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
“The idea is to take seriously the spiritual dimension of this conflict,” commented one of the pope’s relatives. Since the beginning of the war, it has not escaped the Vatican that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow provided a theological justification for the conflict. All the difficulty for Francis is therefore to respond to him on this religious ground, without incarnating the role of chaplain of the West, which the popes have always refused. A positioning that had led him to recall on March 13: “God is only the God of peace, not the God of war. Whoever supports violence profane the name. »
“With this consecration to the heart of Mary, Francis seeks to emphasize the Orthodox soul, to speak to a figure common to the Russian and Ukrainian worlds. It’s a mystical process.” continues an adviser from the pope’s inner circle. But the same source further explains that the pope also places this spiritual approach for peace in the continuity of another initiative of the same kind, organized two years ago almost to the day, when the world had just entered a another moment of acute crisis. “It clearly makes the connection with the prayer of March 27, 2020 in St. Peter’s Square. »That day, the pope prayed alone in the square in front of the basilica, to implore God’s help in the face of the pandemic that had just declared itself. The images then went around the world.
“Two years later, we find ourselves in the same situation, faced with another large-scale development which confirms that we have moved into a new world, again explains this close friend of François. We are on the verge of World War III: for Francis, it is urgent to mobilize all spiritual forces. »
In the Vatican, prayer is also closely linked to the diplomatic efforts undertaken since the beginning of the conflict. “We do not put diplomacy in one box and spiritual activity in another, summarizes a diplomat from the Apostolic Palace. If we carry out this diplomacy, it is because we are Catholics. »
“There are different levels of action”, explains one of the very good connoisseurs of Francis, at the Curia, who details three levels: prayer, diplomacy and solidarity. As if these dimensions were somehow the floors of the same building. “The Pope, as a good Jesuit, summarizes the same source, apply this maxim: “Pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you.” » Also for the pope, if “God is the only Lord of history, he acts through the imperfect people that we are”.
To tell the truth, the multiplication of these declarations, and especially the announcement of the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, left the diplomats stationed at the Holy See as perplexed as they were intrigued. “It is certain that when it comes to praying, it means that the situation is badly engaged…”, analyze one of them. “Given the situation on the ground, there is no more political space, says another. So the pope is trying to play on another board, with a much more spiritual aspect. It’s a card that only the Vatican can play. »