Antonio Spadaro and His Seven Paintings from the Hermitage

Antonio Spadaro and His Seven Paintings from the Hermitage - фото 1
10.07.2022, 11:00
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In his recent article, the editor of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, “painted” seven pictures of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At times the author depicts reality well, but one can still often trace the influence of the Russian “artistic” school.

Amid Russia’s large-scale war against Ukraine and the West as a civilizational and geographical concept, the international community’s support is vital for Ukrainians. Today, we see that the part of the world declaring its commitment to the values ​​of democracy, human rights and the inviolability of the borders of sovereign states has announced its support for Ukraine, which has fallen victim to its neighbor’s imperial ambitions. For Ukrainians, the position of the Holy See is equally important since the latter is a unique intersection of secular and ecclesiastical power, capable of shaping the value and geopolitical orientations of Catholics and all people of goodwill.

The Holy See would actively respond to this war in various ways even before it started. Ukraine, for its part, expressed a strong desire for the Vatican to become the venue for negotiations with Russia to prevent the escalation of the conflict, which took place on February 24, 2022. Unfortunately, Russia was not open to such a dialogue, following the path of unrealistic ultimatums and therefore resorting to a full-scale invasion. It is worth noting that the position of the Holy See has its own dynamics, indicating the gradual awareness of the threat posed by Russia’s aspirations to restore its political and military control over the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. However, certain statements and gestures on the part of the Vatican caused righteous indignation in Ukraine and other parts of the world, indicating insufficient sensitivity or lack of information on the part of those on the Vatican Hills making decisions regarding the Ukrainian issue.

A few weeks ago, La Civiltà Cattolica published the article “Seven Pictures of the Invasion of Ukraine. The World Is Not a Chessboard” (“Sette “quadri” sull’invasione dell’Ucraina”) by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro. Fr. Spadaro has repeatedly acted as a communicator and interpreter of the Vatican’s position on Russian aggression against Ukraine. In the article, Fr. Spadaro offers his subjective perspective on current events, their moral evaluation, and a broader geopolitical view - the one he tries to fit his reasoning in. However, the article seems to reflect the views of some of the Vatican circles. Therefore, we cannot ignore the fact that it offers false premises and thus, leads to erroneous conclusions regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war, which already caused severe reputational losses for the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

The overall picture presented by Fr. Antonio Spadaro is basically about the fact that the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be viewed as a tragic element of the “Third World War in Fragments”, which was more than once mentioned by Pope Francis. According to Fr. Spadaro, there is no absolute good or evil in this war. Therefore, everyone is equally liable for starting it. However, it is worth noting that Fr. Spadaro no longer uses the “Delphic language” while talking about the “conflict in the east of Ukraine” - the nameless war that suddenly befell Ukrainians. Instead, he characterizes it as Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and openly identifies the aggressor and the victim.

Fr. Spadaro tells his story in the form of “seven paintings of the blasphemous gallery called war”, each of these paintings deserving our particular attention.

The First Painting: The Empire and the War

Fr. Antonio begins with a rather apt thesis: this is a war for the restoration of the empire, with the “Russkyi mir” ideology as the primary tool for its justification. It is evident that including a religious aspect in this ideology and the blessing of the war by the Patriarch of Moscow gave the Russian aggression against Ukraine a status of “holy war” of sorts. Therefore, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular Patriarch Kirill, one of the creators of this ideology, bears the same responsibility for this war as the secular leadership of Russia. Spadaro also rightly draws attention to A. Dugin’s contribution to the imperial “Russkyi mir” ideology. Dugin is a supporter of Eurasianism and a Russian chauvinist and his works are one of the most striking examples of Russian imperialistic and anti-Western thinking.

Dugin’s texts and speeches are frank, straightforward, and primarily written for the Russian audience. Their value in assessing Russia’s actions is undeniable since Dugin does not play diplomacy, voicing the things others do not dare to say. Yet to draw a parallel between the ideology of the “Russkyi mir” and Dugin’s speeches, one does not need to make extra efforts. Fr. Spadaro expressed what lies on the surface, though it becomes somewhat more difficult for him when professional diplomats enter the game.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, whom Fr. Spadaro uses as a contrasting counterpart to Dugin, is not as blunt. However, this does not mean he is not one of the ideologists and promoters of the " Russkyi mir "/“Russian world”. One of the characteristic examples was his speech at the conference “Russia — Ukraine — Belarus: A Single Spiritual Space?”, which took place on June 1, 2019, at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Analyzing the main theses of the Metropolitan’s speech, one can easily notice a narrative shared with Putin’s address to the nation on February 21, 2022, which Fr. Spadaro quoted. Just like Putin, Metropolitan Alfeyev deems Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to constitute one “spiritual space”, which must remain united regardless of changes to the borders and the collapse of empires. At the same time, the Metropolitan (not unlike the president of the Russian Federation) simplifies and manipulates history while blatantly ignoring the differences between the historical trajectories of Ukrainians and Russians. He interprets everything that does not fit his vision of events as the intervention of external forces seeking to break the mythical thousand-year unity of Ukrainians and Russians.

This narrative constitutes the core of the “Russkyi mir” ideology, which Patriarch Kirill has actively promoted since 2009. Metropolitan Hilarion did not call for a military takeover of Ukraine, nor did the Patriarch before 2022. However, both of them consistently filled the minds of their flock with the idea of ​​Ukrainians being an ephemeral nation. They also propagated myths about the “one people” and the intervention of “external forces” trying to divide it. Eventually, the Russian leadership used these theses to justify its invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, Fr. Spadaro makes sympathetic comments on Metropolitan Alfeyev’s January performance on the radio. The latter was allegedly alarmed by the possibility of war, believing some politicians from the USA, Ukraine, and Russia would be interested in such an outcome. Apparently, Fr. Spadaro forgets that Russian propaganda had been preparing the world for the invasion of Ukraine with the same rhetoric, saying that Russia had no choice and if it had not struck first, either Ukraine or the USA/NATO would have made their move.

Returning to the thesis of Metropolitan Alfeyev about Russia, Ukraine and the USA bearing shared responsibility for the war, it is worth noting that Fr. Spadaro agrees with it, as one can trace this narrative throughout his entire text. However, we would ask Fr. Spadaro the following question: do you believe Ukraine could have planned a war against the state with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world? Our soldiers are brave and foolhardy, but they are not idiots. The current attempt to “divide” the blame for the war between Russia, Ukraine, and the USA is just another trick of the Kremlin’s propaganda. They understand that it is impossible to save their face, so they try to discredit everyone else. And Spadaro apparently forgot that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons (something Pope Francis constantly calls for) in exchange for security guarantees. Instead, in 2014, one of the guarantor countries seized part of its territory. At that moment, the Ukrainian army was practically helpless and disorganized, primarily due to the actions of the pro-Russian Yanukovych regime and its Kremlin “consultants”. And Ukraine most definitely did not plan to attack anyone.

To fathom the real reasons for this war, Fr. Spadaro should pay attention not to the messages Russian propaganda so generously planted in Western societies but to the rhetoric of the Russian leadership. Their attack on Ukraine has nothing to do with the mythical plan of Ukraine or the USA to attack Russians. Putin has repeatedly claimed he does not consider Ukraine a state and Ukrainians a separate nation (hence the “one people” thesis). Moreover, he openly compared himself to Peter I, working to restore the empire by “gathering Russian lands.” If Ukraine is “guilty” of something, it is of its very existence, and the USA is guilty of showing readiness to protect Ukraine’s right to exist by providing various aid. Also, Fr. Antonio should remember that after the Second World War, in his message for Christmas in 1948, Pius XII emphasized that in the case of unjust aggression, “all the more does the solidarity of the family of nations forbid others to behave as mere spectators, in any attitude of apathetic neutrality”. He also deemed it impossible to measure the harm “already caused in the past by such indifference to by such indifference to wars of aggression” and that “it has only reassured and encouraged the authors and fomenters of aggression”.

The war that came to Ukrainian land in 2014 has already caused incredible material and humanitarian damage to the Ukrainian people. And believing that Ukrainians wanted escalation is an obvious manifestation of cynicism. Fr. Spadaro’s text indicates that he feels for Russia’s losses more than for Ukraine’s. He promptly quotes the relevant words of Metropolitan Alfeyev without mentioning the losses of Ukraine... Are Cain’s reputational and material losses more important than Abel losing his life?

We understand that today’s Catholic Church has a genuine desire to maintain a dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate. Thus, the figure of Metropolitan Alfeyev, who refrained from any statements openly supporting the war, as Patriarch Kirill did, might look like their last hope. Most likely, his transfer to Hungary is a reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is already considering restoring its relations with the West and the Catholic Church. However, Metropolitan Alfeyev is not part of the solution. He is part of the problem. He worked in Patriarch Kirill’s team all these years preceding the war. He also headed the department he himself called “similar to the defense department, for we have to defend the sacred borders of our Church” as Vladimir Putin was awarding him the Order of Alexander Nevsky.

Recalling the tragic experience of our Church in the 20th century, we would like to draw Fr. Spadaro’s attention to the fact that Metropolitan Alfeyev repeatedly justified the Lviv pseudo-council in 1946 organized by the Soviet special services, which announced the liquidation of the UGCC and annexed its parishes in favor of the Russian Orthodox Church. Today, thanks to the KGB archives available in Ukraine, we know that the KGB recruited 70% of those participating in this staged action as informants and agents (including the Orthodox bishops attending the meeting), and the meeting was held under the watchful eye of special services. The reluctance of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church to critically reconsider the Soviet period of its history is one of the reasons they cannot get rid of the harmful influence of state power. Metropolitan Alfeyev is an organic product and representative of this system. Is it possible to continue relations with the Moscow Patriarchate as before the war and with the same people who prepared this war on the ideological front? Let’s keep this question open. However, we do not rule out the possibility that a few days after the war, the Vatican will welcome Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev as a representative of the “different ROC”, celebrating a “new page” in the relations between Rome and Moscow.

It is hard to miss Fr. Spadaro’s all-out effort to include the topic of Russian aggression against Ukraine in the polemic between La Civiltà Cattolica, the journal he heads, and US Christian conservative circles. This is not the place to address these questions. We would warn Fr. Spadaro against such manipulations in the future and ask him to leave Ukrainians out of his own ideological wars.

The passion of Christ 2022 - фото 96201
The passion of Christ 2022
Photo source: Ukrainian artist

The Second Painting: The Throne and the Altar

In this picture, Fr. Spadaro further explains the sacralization of war. He draws attention to Putin using religious rhetoric in justifying the Russian imperial project and aggression against Ukraine. Of course, Fr. Spadaro views the sacralization of war and imperial aspirations as something negative and akin to jihadism and the latest Crusades. At the same time, following the logic of Metropolitan Alfeyev, Fr. Spadaro places a share of the responsibility on Ukraine. He even mentions the pre-election motto “Army. Language. Faith.” of Ukraine’s former President, Petro Poroshenko.

The question of politicians using religious rhetoric requires a thorough and careful approach. However, not every case of appealing to religion is the same. For instance, Ukraine had no imperial aspirations. The “Army. Language. Faith” slogan was a reaction to the fact that at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainian army did not exist per se. Despite the existence of the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian language had to be protected from the intrusive Russification policy aimed at gradually supplanting it in all possible spheres of public life. This process began in the days of the Russian Empire when Ukrainian was banned repeatedly. Later on, the Soviet communist regime stuck to this policy. And after Ukraine gained independence, attempts to marginalize the Ukrainian language would be constantly initiated by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, who, as we know, the Kremlin generously funded. The Russian Orthodox Church had no small part in this process, having an extensive network of parishes and church organizations in Ukraine.

Likewise, the issue of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church did not arise during Poroshenko’s presidency. Orthodox Kyiv had been trying to escape the Moscow yoke (the anticanonical dependency forced upon it in 1686) since 1917. The fact that in 2014 the issue of autocephaly received active support from the highest Ukrainian authorities was a reaction to the Russian authorities manipulating the religious factor, as they, among other things, sought to gain complete control over the Orthodox of Ukraine. Fr. Spadaro should remember that P. Poroshenko was among the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate for a long time.

Can we justify politicians participating in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy fight for independence from Moscow? We, Catholics, are in no position to answer this question. Being a theologian, Fr. Spadaro should know that this is a common practice in the Orthodox world. He also should be aware that most churches are of a distinctive national nature, and the Ukrainian case in this regard is quite natural.

And if Fr. Antonio believes Tomos to be an American-Ukrainian stone cast in Russia’s direction (as Russians themselves put it), one must admit that he does not know the history of Orthodox Ukrainians fighting for a Church independent from Moscow. On the other hand, the productive dialogue between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Rome in Moscow is also considered a “product” of American influence. Then, should the Vatican sever relations with Phanar because of Moscow’s views?

Was it the process of recognizing Ukrainian autocephaly, as he claims, that started the “religious engine of national self-awareness”? It is hard to say what Fr. Spadaro has in mind by interpreting events the way he does. However, as reality shows, the current Ukrainian defense of its independence is not built on the defense of “Orthodox Ukraine” or “Ukrainian Orthodoxy”. The Ukrainian side does not view this war through the religious prism since Catholics and Orthodox, Jews and Muslims, as well as agnostics and atheists, are fighting for independence side by side. This is a fight for the right to exist as a Ukrainian political nation.

The Third Painting: Russia and Ukraine in the Heart of Mary

And how the Ukrainian artist sees the war - фото 96200
And how the Ukrainian artist sees the war
Photo source: Volodymyr Slepchenko

Fr. Antonio Spadaro dedicates his third painting to the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. He says that the logic of such a simultaneous consecration can be explained by the desire of the Latin episcopate of Ukraine and the fact that the aggressor is not the embodiment of the devil. Russia is more of a prodigal son, a child of the Father, just like the victim (Ukraine). He says that the paradoxical language of the Gospel is love for one’s enemy who has the right to be stopped from doing evil. For such is the point of love: to stop your enemy so that he is your enemy no longer.

This is a profound theological explanation. However, if love for the enemy is the language of the Gospel and Jesus, then why not voice it in the very act of consecration? After all, when the children of the Father, Adam and Eve, do evil, destroying the order in the universe established by the Father, he reprimands them, warning them against the terrible consequences for them and the universe. Cain, being a child of the Father like Abel, whom he killed, is also reprimanded by the Father. And the prodigal son, who Fr. Spadaro uses as the aggressor’s image, falls into his father’s arms after realizing his mistake. Although the father probably searched for him daily, it was up to the son to return home. God respects our freedom.

In the act of consecration, we heard no rebuke for committed crimes nor calls on the aggressor to admit their sins. The prodigal son is not moving towards his father’s house but into even more distant lands of corruption and violence, harming himself and his neighbors. We need to tell him the truth to stop him and divert him from this path of destruction. He needs to hear the truth about the evil he commits and the eternal torment that awaits him lest he repents. Reminding the need to repent and stop the actions leading to eternal torment shows true love for the enemy. In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis says that loving one’s wrongdoer “does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable. On the contrary, true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others” (§241).

Reminding the wrongdoer of his misdeed would be evidence of the spiritual and moral leadership of the Roman Apostolic See. Today, the world is waiting for such leadership. In times of moral relativism, the Church denying its prophetic voice is not “worth its salt”. How do the Vatican’s words calling for an end to abstract war differ from those of the UN? Does that mean the Church is just one of the NGOs in this world? After the atrocities committed in Bucha, destroyed cities and villages and all those mass graves of peaceful civilians, the words of church leaders who are afraid to name the culprit and call on him to abandon the path of darkness will only lead to a gradual loss of trust in the Church.

We agree with Fr. Spadaro’s saying that the enemy is not the devil incarnate. Yet, we would like to put a rhetorical question here: is it not the devil possessing Cain when the latter kills his brother Abel? Was it not the devil that possessed the brothers when they sold Joseph into slavery?

Fr. Spadaro once again addresses politicians using religious rhetoric. And, to some extent, this is a fair observation. However, it will be valid if the Vatican departs from the logic of secular diplomacy and testifies to the truth, no matter how bitter it may be for those hearing it. As of now, there is a distinct impression that focusing on listening to superpowers and their interests prevails over heeding smaller and weaker states. This is a tribute of sorts to purely secular Realpolitik.

Finally, Fr. Spadaro’s intention behind mentioning Jesus’s words when addressing Peter is unclear. Jesus asks Peter not to use the sword. We understand that Christ, whose Kingdom is not of this world, has no need for a sword. Does that mean we lay down our weapons and end armed resistance? That is, should we allow the aggressor to go on and kill us?! Should we let them do evil, kill us, and meet their own death while doing so? That is why, in an interview with the Italian TV channel “Rai1”, commenting on the purchase of weapons by governments, Pope Francis stated that he understands this decision, albeit not justifying it: “we have to defend ourselves as there is a Cain-like scheme of war.” He expressed a similar thesis during a meeting with UCU vice-rector Myroslav Marynovych, a former Gulag prisoner, and Denys Kolyada, a UCU graduate, noting that in the Ukrainian case, offering no resistance would be akin to suicidal behavior.

The Fourth Painting: Ecumenism and Nationalism

As Fr. Spadaro aptly notes, Russian aggression has damaged global interfaith relations. However, by supporting it, the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate shows that the future of ecumenical dialogue is the least of their concerns. For instance, the meeting in Cuba, which Fr. Spadaro mentions, occurred after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and when Russia’s international isolation began. By attending this meeting, the Vatican sacrificed the authority of the Catholic Church and disregarded the opinion of its bishops, its faithful, and people of good will in Ukraine. And the document produced after this meeting is a striking example of the merging of politics and religion, something Fr. Antonio strongly criticized elsewhere. Today, it is evident that the second meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch was being prepared while the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church was already aware of plans to attack Ukraine. They wished to tarnish the Pope’s white cassock with Ukrainian blood and thus save the face of the Moscow Patriarchate.

It is also worth mentioning that the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue reached an impasse long ago, which had nothing to do with the Russian-Ukrainian war. In fact, it happened due to the Moscow Patriarchate’s unwillingness to discuss the hypothetical restoration of unity and them openly declaring their interest in nothing but cooperation in the social sphere or the protection of “traditional values” (another trope of Russian propaganda aimed at Western societies to cause a division). The Moscow Patriarchate did not stop being part of the Catholic-Orthodox commission on theological dialogue because of Ukraine. They did it because they broached the issue of primacy, and Catholics and Orthodox arrived at a certain consensus. Yet the Russian Orthodox Church came up with its own document regarding this issue, denying any possibility of the existence of a universal-level primacy in the Church.

However, Fr. Antonio zeroes in on small details, focusing on the issue of inter-church relations between different Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine. Earlier, we already pointed out that the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly did not arise in 2014, and until 1686 the Kyiv Metropolitanate was not part of the Moscow Patriarchate. Given the blind conviction that Ukrainian Orthodoxy originally belonged to the Russian Church, understanding these facts is quite challenging for a Westerner. In fact, the idea that Kyiv and Crimea are the core of Russian religious and church identity is a relatively recent mythical-imperial phenomenon, formulated only in the 19th century thanks to such Russian secular and church historians as M. Karamzin and Metr. Makariy Bulgakov.

No one denies that, in a way, the history of the Moscow Church goes back to the Baptism in Kyiv. However, this does not mean the Ukrainian Church should be part of the Moscow Patriarchate. We understand that it is hard to depart from stereotypical patterns and that many ecumenists in the West find it easier to deal with something they are used to. The problem is that the history and reality of Christianity in Eastern Europe are more complex. If you try to fit them into ready-made, familiar and often fake patterns, those patterns will suffer and fall apart, as will the dialogue itself.

Fr. Antonio openly portrays the newly established OCU as a nationalist project, taking one of Metropolitan Epifany’s statements out of context. On the other hand, he describes the UOC (MP) as a more moderate Church, open to dialogue and reconciliation. In fact, the ills Fr. Antonio pins on the OCU can be found in any other local Orthodox Church (or even entire Catholic nations). At the same time, we understand that, usually, Western ecumenists have to deal with “professional diplomats”, including those from the UOC (MP). They have learned to imitate ecumenical openness to spread the messages they need in the international arena. Such has been the policy of the KGB since the 60s. However, in Ukraine, the UOC (MP) is the church structure most reluctant to make any contacts or engage in dialogue. The circles in this Church that previously demonstrated sincere ecumenical openness went to join the OCU after 2019. On the other hand, for the majority of the clergy and faithful of the UOC (MP), the word “ecumenism” remains tantamount to heresy, and “Jesuit” is a synonym for the most insidious and cunning person. The apparent distance between the UOC (MP) and the Ukrainian government (or its efforts to appear “above the conflict”) is but a consequence. The UOC (MP) leaders do not share the political views of Ukraine’s previous and current presidents. Instead, they actively cooperate with openly pro-Russian politicians and gladly accept them as guests of honor at their solemn events.

On the other hand, the future of ecumenical dialogue depends on understanding the church reality in Eastern Europe. For decades, the Moscow Patriarchate tried to maintain the exclusive right to represent all the Orthodox of the region and speak on their behalf. Constantinople’s decision to intervene in the Ukrainian situation and issue the Tomos on the autocephaly of the OCU created a chance to improve the state of affairs in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Millions of Orthodox faithful, whom Moscow denied even the right to call themselves Christians, returned to church communion with their brothers and sisters from other Churches. Alluding to the US having a hand in the process of obtaining autocephaly for the OCU (a favorite thesis of Metropolitan Alfeyev), Fr. Antonio essentially accuses Patriarch Bartholomew, Rome’s current primary partner in ecumenical dialogue, of impure intentions! The Catholic party has always emphasized its non-interference in Orthodoxy’s internal affairs, whilst doubting Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions concerning Ukraine is a sign of departure from this principle.

The desire to maintain contact with the Moscow Patriarchate is understandable, but Orthodox Kyiv is not an appendage to Moscow. It is a much older church center, the one the Roman Apostolic Capital established contacts with long before the political rise of the Muscovite Empire. Should this political weight of Moscow continue to determine the ecumenical climate?

Kremlin-style ecumenism - фото 96197
Kremlin-style ecumenism


The Fifth Painting: Via Crucis

The fifth picture is dedicated to the thirteenth station of this year’s Way of the Cross in the Coliseum. This initiative stirred up Ukraine and Christians in other countries, causing truly colossal reputational losses for the Vatican and Pope Francis himself.

Once again, Fr. Spadaro tries to explain this idea per the Gospel logic: we are all brothers - the aggressor and the victim. We are the children of the same Father. Therefore, children stand together under one cross. Quoting Pope Francis, Fr. Spadaro reminds us that the Father does not divide his children into good and bad, into friends and enemies. He calls on everyone to stop.

Like in the case of the Consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, we see yet another “terrible insensitivity” (as one of the Vatican dignitaries put it) to the suffering of Ukrainians. Just like with the Havana Declaration, the fate of others is decided behind their backs while disregarding their opinion. Shouldn’t we have asked the Ukrainians how they envisioned these Stations of the Cross and their opinion on “prophetic” symbols? Shouldn’t we have asked all those who lost their relatives, those who were mutilated, raped, tortured, deported, placed in “filtration camps”, those six-year-olds bringing food to their mother’s grave in the yard of a bombed tower block? There is no sensitivity here, only cabinet cynicism.

Remembering the Pope’s call to stop, Fr. Antonio Spadaro should have understood the simple truth: if Ukraine stops, its state and its people will cease to be, and quite possibly, the same will happen to other nations. But if Russia stops, so will the war. Ukraine has repeatedly stated that we demand an end to this war, that we are ready to cease fire if our enemy does the same, and that we expect an end to aggression and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. Yet Putin believes everything should go according to his plan as he is the one who was “provoked”. So, should we be surprised by Ukraine’s bitter disappointment and indignation upon hearing about “NATO barking”, the words which are attributed to the Pope (though it was the leader of one of the European countries who used them during a meeting with the Pope shortly before the war) and were recently republished by La Civiltà Cattolica magazine for an unknown purpose?

We can hear the same theses coming from the Kremlin. Don’t they belong to the same author? Is it not the one who has outdone Cain and Joseph’s brothers?

We realize that Pope Francis does not fully understand the situation in Central-Eastern Europe, which essentially became a colony of Moscow after 1945. The centuries-long conflict between Kyiv and Moscow is even less clear to him. However, those keeping an eye on his position did not fail to notice a certain evolution: from avoiding the words “war” and “aggression”, a silent (but laden with a powerful symbolism) trip to the Russian embassy in the Vatican to using the words “war”, “aggression”, “invasion”, “massacre”; from doubting the decision to supply weapons to Ukraine to the words about the “Cain-like war” and validating the provision of weapons for protection against the aggressor. We also have to mention Pope Francis’ words during the meeting with Myroslav Marynovych and Denys Kolyada: “offering no resistance is akin to suicidal behavior.”

And after all this, Fr. Antonio’s magazine published a month-old interview, presenting rhetoric that differs fundamentally from the one we heard during the private meeting of the representatives of Ukraine with the Pope. Why did its text take so much time to finish? Why was it done after the Pope’s statement? Was it to deal yet another blow to the pontiff’s reputation and discredit him in the eyes of Ukrainian society?

Way of the Cross 2022 - фото 96202
Way of the Cross 2022
Photo source: Ulyana Krekhovets

The Sixth Painting: The Pope and Diplomacy

Antonio Spadaro provided a concise and apt explanation of the diplomatic approaches of the Vatican and the Popes. This information is interesting and necessary for those unfamiliar with the history of the “impartiality” concept of Pope Benedict XV or “positive neutrality”, as outlined by Cardinal Pietro Parolin during the conference on the 90th anniversary of the Lateran Accords. The Pope never names the aggressor; he does not attack secular leaders directly; he condemns the sin, not the sinner, and sees the negotiation process through the present and future prism. The efforts of the Roman pontiffs have paid off in protecting the Rohingya people in Myanmar and promoting peace after the Persian Gulf War. Fr. Spadaro also mentions the change in the Pope’s rhetoric. The latter initially avoided using “strong” words while speaking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet over time, his statements became bolder and more transparent.

Of course, Ukraine is grateful for all attempts to resolve the conflict diplomatically and mediate between Ukraine and Russia. These efforts, unfortunately, turned out to be futile. Although the content of these negotiations remains unclear, the texts of various official communiqués show that the Vatican wanted to keep the parties within the framework of the Minsk process. As Fr. Spadaro probably knows, Ukraine agreed to those conditions at gunpoint, yet it still stressed its commitment and was ready to follow this path. Of course, Ukraine would not take any steps threatening its existence as a state. Ukraine was ready for compromises with the only condition: ceasefire and withdrawal of illegal armed formations from its territory. Is it not a fair demand? Could Fr. Spadaro imagine Austria occupying part of northern Italy because once it was part of the Austrian Empire, forcing them to hold elections at gunpoint?

We also do not know whether the Vatican raised the issue of the de-occupation of Crimea with Moscow. Are they ready to put up with the violation of state borders in the 21st century? Ukraine, for its part, repeatedly brought this issue to the attention of the world community. At the same time, it emphasized its commitment to diplomacy and tried to find a solution with the international community’s involvement while adhering to the norms of international law. It seems that Pope Francis wrote about this in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti when saying that to prevent wars between states, “there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration” (§257).

Painting his sixth picture, Fr. Spadaro makes a connection with the first, the one with Metropolitan Alfeyev, presenting the situation where both parties opposed dialogue and were preparing for war. As mentioned before, this technique of Russian propagandists aimed at Western audiences is one of their favorite as it allows placing responsibility on everyone involved. Unfortunately, Fr. Spadaro still does not understand what Pope Francis already has. In an interview with Corriere Della Sera, the pontiff said, “If Putin opened the door...”. Lviv, Kyiv or Kharkiv could see this pessimistic prospect long before February 24. Perhaps the time will come when the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica will understand this too. This understanding will open the way to the realization that not everyone is to blame and that the war’s beginning lies in what Fr. Spadaro started with - Moscow’s imperial ambitions.

A Rural Cross Procession à la russe, as depicted by Vasiliy Perov, 1861 - фото 96199
A Rural Cross Procession à la russe, as depicted by Vasiliy Perov, 1861
Photo source: wikimedia

The Seventh Painting: Dominance and Negotiations

It is hard to disagree with Fr. Antonio when he says the world needs peace and everyone should work toward restoring it. Here he recalls the numerous appeals of Pope Francis, as well as the words of Archbishop Gallagher about the need to return to diplomacy in resolving the war and starting the reconciliation process. Fr. Spadaro pays particular attention to the statements of the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, who speaks about the need for a new architecture of international relations to ensure balance and stability between states. This is crucial as the world will always be on the brink of new wars if the rule of force, rather than the rule of law, is at work.

At the same time, following the example of some politicians, Fr. Spadaro says that humiliating Russia as a state is unacceptable. He draws an analogy with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the “humiliation of Germany”, which led to the Second World War. It should be mentioned that this argument is quite popular nowadays. However, V. Putin was one of the first to speak about it in one of his pseudo-historical articles, “75 Years of the Great Victory: General Responsibility Towards History and the Future”, where he, not unlike Fr. Spadaro, called for the creation of new security architecture of the world.

Vladimir Putin would see such an architecture arise from the “new Yalta”, where the superpowers outline the spheres of interest and influence in the world while disregarding the opinion of smaller and non-nuclear states. After all, he is already trying to impose this idea on the world. Upon receiving no positive response from the potential partners of this “new Yalta” in 2020, he decided to force everyone into it by starting “the criminal war not only against free Ukraine, but against the whole civilized world” as cardinal Michael Czerny stated recently.

The Versailles prism is convenient for justifying Russia’s actions, which seem to have received a justification for revenge for the collapse of the USSR. But it is false as Russia had its own “Versailles”. Like Germany, it was dissatisfied with the results of the First World War and was preparing to start the Second World War. After all, they started it together. The war ended with the collapse of the German totalitarian regime, while the Soviet totalitarianism, no less terrible in its manifestations than that of the Nazis, only grew stronger. Therefore, as St. John Paul II wrote in 1989, for some European countries, “the real post-war period is just beginning” (SA, 28). Therefore, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not mark the defeat of Germany in the First World War. It marked the end of totalitarianism which was celebrated in 1945 in Western Europe and 1989 in Eastern Europe. In modern Europe, no one would think of a possibility of moral satisfaction to Germany for the destruction of the Nazi regime, not even in one’s wildest dreams. So why do some get the idea of ​​appeasing Putin’s resentment due to the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism?! The current Putin resentment is not analogous to post-World War I Germany’s a grudge. It is the Nazis attempting to restore their totalitarian regime after 1945.

It is worth mentioning that on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland, the Vatican also sought to prevent war through diplomacy and was ready to encourage the Poles to make territorial concessions concerning Gdańsk. After the war, as evidenced by the words from the above-quoted Christmas message of Pope Pius XII, the Vatican was no longer committed to the tactics of “pacifying” the aggressor. This became possible only when the world witnessed the crimes of the Nazis. Aren’t the atrocities in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities and missile attacks on residential buildings proof enough that no efforts to pacify Russia will prompt Putin to stop on the way to the final “solution of the Ukrainian issue”? As it was formulated in the infamous article “The Advent of Russia and the New World”, published on the official resource of RIA-Novosti during the first days of the war and soon deleted due to the failure of the Russian Blitzkrieg.

Fr. Spadaro believes there is still a way out. It lies in forming a “united Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals”, envisioned by St. John Paul II. This is an excellent idea that might be implemented in the distant future. Currently, Russia would like to implement quite the opposite: “Russkyi mir from the Urals to the Atlantic.” And Russian culture, which Fr. Antonio mentions in his first picture, has a significant role here. According to the director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky, “our last exhibitions abroad are a powerful cultural offensive. A “special operation” of sorts, detested by many. But we are advancing, and we cannot allow anyone to interfere with our offensive... By the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine, exhibitions of Russian museums were held everywhere... This was our “special operation”, a large-scale cultural offensive.”

We Ukrainians know very well that sooner or later, Russian “soft power” is followed by Russian “hard power”. We have been talking about it to the world for years, often to no avail, and strangely enough, after the terrible atrocities of the Russian army in Ukraine, we still must talk about it. It would be great if Fr. Spadaro understood this too.