Pope Francis made an urgent call on Tuesday in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, to demand peace in Ukraine and an immediate end to a conflict he called “tragic and senseless war.”
On his 38th pontifical trip, Francis raised his voice alongside the country’s president and said: “I have come to echo the request of all those who cry out for peace, which is the essential path for the development of our globalized world.”
At his side, the president of that former Soviet republic, Kasim-Yomart Tokayev – the only Central Asian leader who told Russian President Vladimir Putin that his government was not going to recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk republics – explained that the world is “on the brink of an abyss, where geopolitical tensions are intensifying and the world economy is suffering.”
Francis’ conference yesterday kicked off the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, a particular event organized by Kazakhstan since the attacks of September 11, 2001, attended by leaders of major religions in an effort to understand and concord very unusual in the current international scene.
To get here, the Pope’s plane had to avoid Russian airspace, flying over Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The empty chair of the Russian patriarch
Along with Francisco, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and the Grand Imam of Al Azar participate in the Congress. To his right, an empty chair, that of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Cyril, whose attendance, originally planned, has been canceled amid the political storm. The Russian religious leader is a close ally of Putin and one of the most ardent supporters of the war against the Ukrainians.
Although the heads of the event did not directly name the stone guest, the war in Ukraine, they made it clear in the opening session that in the post-pandemic world of protests, sanctions, inflation and bombing, it is possible that dialogue and spirituality are the only outlet left to the international theater.
This Wednesday, Francis will give a mass before several thousand people on the esplanade of the Expo that Kazakhstan held in 2017.
In his speech, Francis recalled the only trip a pope has made to the country to date. It was when John Paul II, in the year 2001 and the September 11 attacks, gave the largest mass that has ever been seen here: 40,000 people.
The last trip of the pope?
The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which this year welcomes a hundred participants from 50 countries, receives special importance if one pays attention to the speculations that venture that this will be one of the last trips of the papacy of Francisco, to who has already been asked by doctors to move as little as possible.
At the opening of the event, the president of Kazakhstan, Tokayev – who has just announced democratic reforms in the country, which last January was the scene of the largest citizen protest to demand democracy – extended his hand to act as mediator in the current conflict that confronts its two former Soviet partners.
Despite its proximity to Russia, Kazakhstan has made it clear that it is an independent country, with its own criteria and a specific roadmap.