Pope to Russia: Destroying grain, creating hunger is 'grave offense to God'

July 31, 2023 at 11:35 a.m.
Pope Francis smiles and waves at visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican after praying the Angelus July 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis smiles and waves at visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican after praying the Angelus July 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) (Divisione Produzione Fotografica)


VATICAN CITY CNS – Destroying grain is a "grave offense to God," Pope Francis said, appealing to authorities in Russia as "my brothers" and urging them to resume cooperating with a United Nations' initiative to guarantee the safe transport of grain out of Ukraine.

"Let us not cease to pray for beleaguered Ukraine, where the war is destroying everything, even grain," he said after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter's Square July 30, 2023.

"This is a grave offense to God, because grain is his gift to feed humanity; and the cry of millions of brothers and sisters who suffer hunger rises to heaven," he said.

"I appeal to my brothers, the authorities of the Russian Federation, that the Black Sea Initiative may be restored and grain may be transported safely," he said.

The Pope was referring to a U.N. initiative that started in Aug. 2022, allowing millions of tons of grain and other crops harvested in Ukraine to be exported across the Black Sea.

However, Russian government authorities announced July 17 it would no longer take part in the agreement, effectively blockading Ukraine's Black Sea ports and forcing more shipments to take an already congested route along the Danube River.

Since then Ukraine's ports on the Danube and grain storage facilities have been targeted by drone and missile strikes; Ukrainian authorities said 60,000 tons of agricultural products were destroyed at a site in Odesa, estimated to have been able to feed 270,000 people for a year. Ukraine was ranked fifth among the largest exporters of wheat worldwide for 2022-2023, according to Statista, and it is also a major world supplier of sunflower oil, barley and corn.

After his Angelus prayer, Pope Francis made a number of appeals and calls for prayers, including for the upcoming Aug. 4 anniversary of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020. A fire caused thousands of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate to detonate, killing more than 210 people and wreaking widespread damage to homes, roads and infrastructure.

"I renew my prayer for the victims and their families, who are seeking truth and justice, and I hope that Lebanon's complex crisis may find a solution worthy of the history and values of that people. Let us not forget that Lebanon is also a message," he said, referring to their history as a land of tolerance and pluralism.

The Pope also marked the U.N.'s International Friendship Day and World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, celebrated July 30.

"The first promotes friendship between peoples and cultures; the second combats the crime that turns people into commodities," he said.

"God bless those who work to fight against trafficking," he said, adding that "trafficking is a terrible reality, affecting too many people: children, women, workers..., so many exploited people; all living in inhuman conditions and suffering indifference and rejection by society."

The Pope also asked that people "accompany me with prayer in my journey to Portugal," where he will go Aug. 2-6 for World Youth Day.

"A great many young people, from all continents, will experience the joy of the encounter with God and with their brothers and sisters, guided by the Virgin Mary," he said. "I entrust the World Youth Day pilgrims and all young people of the world to her, shining star of the Christian path."

In his reflection on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew before praying the Angelus, the Pope said Jesus is like a precious "pearl" that must be sought, found, cherished and "made one's own."

"It is worth investing everything in him because, when one encounters Christ, life changes," he said. He is the greatest good in life and the faithful must seek to "find and embrace Jesus with all of oneself." ists are trying to destroy it again," said Zelenskyy, who visited the ruined cathedral July 27.

Immediately after the attack, nearly 300 priests of the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate signed a letter to UOC Metropolitan Onufriy condemning the cathedral's destruction and urging an immediate, final break with the Russian Orthodox Church due to Russia's war on Ukraine, initially launched in 2014. The letter was published July 23 by the Ukrainian media outlet Glavkom.

"We will never see thousands of Ukrainians under the sunny sky again, never write a lyrical poem, never give a flower to a loved one, never hold our own child in our arms," the letter said. "All this unimaginable human suffering, all this horror, is happening in the name of Satan's 'justice' from the marshes of Moscow! How sad it is, but our Church did not find an adequate response to these words of the Patriarch."

Close to 80% of Ukraine's population identifies as Orthodox, but that affiliation has become increasingly complex in light of Russia's decade of aggression against Ukraine, which began in 2014 with attacks on the Donbas region and the attempted annexation of Crimea.

In January 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Constantinople Patriarchate – the "first among equals" of the Orthodox churches – formally recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, distinct from the UOC.

A few months prior, he had restored Metropolitan Filaret, head of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate – an independent Orthodox church in Ukraine – to full communion. In response, the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, severed communion with Constantinople.

The UOC, which had historically remained loyal to Russia, broke with the Moscow Patriarchate in May 2022 over Kirill's vigorous endorsement of Russia's war on Ukraine. The patriarch has

blessed Russian troops and claimed their death in battle "washes away all sins."

"We do not want to suffer for Russia, Putin, or Kirill," said the priests in their letter. "And most of us have the impression that our persecution is for them, not for Christ."

Despite the May 2022 break with Moscow, Ukrainian officials remain wary of the UOC and lingering loyalty to Russia, and have continued investigations into ties between the church and Moscow.

In their letter, the priests asserted there had been "no real rupture" between the UOC and Moscow, and demanded that Metropolitan Onufriy take a definitive stand on the relationship between the two churches.

Metropolitan Onufriy – who in April was found to hold what he described as an unused Russian passport from his student days – expressed his condolences over the cathedral attack in a July 23 message, urging "patience and fervent prayer" to "tame our anger" and not let it "turn into blind hatred."

On July 28, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, considered draft legislation that would move to ban the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate, reviewing a bill outlawing religious organizations that operate in Ukraine but have headquarters outside the country "in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine."

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.




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VATICAN CITY CNS – Destroying grain is a "grave offense to God," Pope Francis said, appealing to authorities in Russia as "my brothers" and urging them to resume cooperating with a United Nations' initiative to guarantee the safe transport of grain out of Ukraine.

"Let us not cease to pray for beleaguered Ukraine, where the war is destroying everything, even grain," he said after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter's Square July 30, 2023.

"This is a grave offense to God, because grain is his gift to feed humanity; and the cry of millions of brothers and sisters who suffer hunger rises to heaven," he said.

"I appeal to my brothers, the authorities of the Russian Federation, that the Black Sea Initiative may be restored and grain may be transported safely," he said.

The Pope was referring to a U.N. initiative that started in Aug. 2022, allowing millions of tons of grain and other crops harvested in Ukraine to be exported across the Black Sea.

However, Russian government authorities announced July 17 it would no longer take part in the agreement, effectively blockading Ukraine's Black Sea ports and forcing more shipments to take an already congested route along the Danube River.

Since then Ukraine's ports on the Danube and grain storage facilities have been targeted by drone and missile strikes; Ukrainian authorities said 60,000 tons of agricultural products were destroyed at a site in Odesa, estimated to have been able to feed 270,000 people for a year. Ukraine was ranked fifth among the largest exporters of wheat worldwide for 2022-2023, according to Statista, and it is also a major world supplier of sunflower oil, barley and corn.

After his Angelus prayer, Pope Francis made a number of appeals and calls for prayers, including for the upcoming Aug. 4 anniversary of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020. A fire caused thousands of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate to detonate, killing more than 210 people and wreaking widespread damage to homes, roads and infrastructure.

"I renew my prayer for the victims and their families, who are seeking truth and justice, and I hope that Lebanon's complex crisis may find a solution worthy of the history and values of that people. Let us not forget that Lebanon is also a message," he said, referring to their history as a land of tolerance and pluralism.

The Pope also marked the U.N.'s International Friendship Day and World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, celebrated July 30.

"The first promotes friendship between peoples and cultures; the second combats the crime that turns people into commodities," he said.

"God bless those who work to fight against trafficking," he said, adding that "trafficking is a terrible reality, affecting too many people: children, women, workers..., so many exploited people; all living in inhuman conditions and suffering indifference and rejection by society."

The Pope also asked that people "accompany me with prayer in my journey to Portugal," where he will go Aug. 2-6 for World Youth Day.

"A great many young people, from all continents, will experience the joy of the encounter with God and with their brothers and sisters, guided by the Virgin Mary," he said. "I entrust the World Youth Day pilgrims and all young people of the world to her, shining star of the Christian path."

In his reflection on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew before praying the Angelus, the Pope said Jesus is like a precious "pearl" that must be sought, found, cherished and "made one's own."

"It is worth investing everything in him because, when one encounters Christ, life changes," he said. He is the greatest good in life and the faithful must seek to "find and embrace Jesus with all of oneself." ists are trying to destroy it again," said Zelenskyy, who visited the ruined cathedral July 27.

Immediately after the attack, nearly 300 priests of the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate signed a letter to UOC Metropolitan Onufriy condemning the cathedral's destruction and urging an immediate, final break with the Russian Orthodox Church due to Russia's war on Ukraine, initially launched in 2014. The letter was published July 23 by the Ukrainian media outlet Glavkom.

"We will never see thousands of Ukrainians under the sunny sky again, never write a lyrical poem, never give a flower to a loved one, never hold our own child in our arms," the letter said. "All this unimaginable human suffering, all this horror, is happening in the name of Satan's 'justice' from the marshes of Moscow! How sad it is, but our Church did not find an adequate response to these words of the Patriarch."

Close to 80% of Ukraine's population identifies as Orthodox, but that affiliation has become increasingly complex in light of Russia's decade of aggression against Ukraine, which began in 2014 with attacks on the Donbas region and the attempted annexation of Crimea.

In January 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Constantinople Patriarchate – the "first among equals" of the Orthodox churches – formally recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, distinct from the UOC.

A few months prior, he had restored Metropolitan Filaret, head of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate – an independent Orthodox church in Ukraine – to full communion. In response, the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, severed communion with Constantinople.

The UOC, which had historically remained loyal to Russia, broke with the Moscow Patriarchate in May 2022 over Kirill's vigorous endorsement of Russia's war on Ukraine. The patriarch has

blessed Russian troops and claimed their death in battle "washes away all sins."

"We do not want to suffer for Russia, Putin, or Kirill," said the priests in their letter. "And most of us have the impression that our persecution is for them, not for Christ."

Despite the May 2022 break with Moscow, Ukrainian officials remain wary of the UOC and lingering loyalty to Russia, and have continued investigations into ties between the church and Moscow.

In their letter, the priests asserted there had been "no real rupture" between the UOC and Moscow, and demanded that Metropolitan Onufriy take a definitive stand on the relationship between the two churches.

Metropolitan Onufriy – who in April was found to hold what he described as an unused Russian passport from his student days – expressed his condolences over the cathedral attack in a July 23 message, urging "patience and fervent prayer" to "tame our anger" and not let it "turn into blind hatred."

On July 28, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, considered draft legislation that would move to ban the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate, reviewing a bill outlawing religious organizations that operate in Ukraine but have headquarters outside the country "in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine."

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.



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