On Friday afternoon, some of the hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholic pilgrims who lined a Lisbon park to pray with Pope Francis stopped to hug their Ukrainian peers standing on a small hill, holding with blue-and-yellow flags and wearing black shirts featuring the faces of children killed in Russia’s invasion of their country.
“So many people are showing us support,” said Anastasiia Koval, 17, crying as young Catholics from Portugal, Spain, Italy, the United States and many other countries hugged her. A priest stopped to wipe his tears. “The pope – I think not.”
Since refusing to name Russia as the aggressor early in the war, Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people, even calling them “martyrs.” But his peace-promoting methods — including a secret mission that has rattled Ukrainian officials, and a reluctance to more fully condemn Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin — have troubled many of those Ukrainian Catholics who attended the main meeting of Catholic youth this week from the surrounding area. the world.
Before his arrival Saturday in Fátima, in central Portugal, the Vatican said Francis would pray there for peace in Ukraine and the world while putting Russia’s aggression back into view. But after praying quietly in front of the town’s shrine and a statue of the Virgin Mary, he did not mention a prayer for peace or Ukraine, and instead repeated his central World Youth Day message that there is room for everyone at the church.
The pope said “no,” said the Rev. Roman Demush, who heads the youth ministry office for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “War should make us cry, and it should be silenced.”
The Vatican said the pope prayed “quietly for peace” and tweeted from the pope’s account his prayer, which did not name any country but addressed the church and the world, “especially countries at war, ” to Maria.
Fátima itself has links to Russia that go back more than a century. The town is known in Catholic tradition for three secret, apocalyptic prophecies said to have been delivered to three children by an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1917, when it was a poor village. One of the children became a nun, and said that a prophecy was that peace would reign on Earth if the pope and the bishops of the world converted to Russia, which had become Communist in the year of the apparitions, and ordained the country in the “Pure Heart of Mary.”
The prophecy has gained renewed attention since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the roughly 500 young Ukrainians who traveled to World Youth Day in Lisbon this week began their journey in Fátima. Fifteen of them also met with Francis at the Vatican embassy in Lisbon.
But for those who hoped that he could make their goal on World Youth Day, there was disappointment, as last year when Francis delivered a prayer for peace that dedicated both Russia and Ukraine to Mary, leaving to many Ukrainians who felt their aggressors.
“He said he was powerless in the face of this evil,” Father Demush said after the meeting, adding that the pope expressed frustration at his inability to stop the violence. Often, he said, the pope listened intently as young Ukrainian pilgrims spoke of their suffering in the war and the friends and family they had lost.
One of the young people, Valentyna Velychko, 17, from Melitopol, said she told her life under occupation and the experience of having missiles fall on her town, how three of her children were killed. friend, and how his girlfriend lost her legs. after stepping on a land mine.
Dmytro Bohak, 19, said he told the pope about the injuries he suffered while driving ambulances and other vehicles in Ukraine. He also recalled how a girl brought tears to the pope’s eyes when he told her that she could no longer recognize her own father, disfigured physically and spiritually by the war.
But Mr. Bohak said what is really needed is action by Francis.
“It’s not enough to just listen – he has to do something,” he said. “We want to be clear to the pope, in a clear way, that Russia is a terrorist state.”
On Friday afternoon, the larger Ukrainian group formed at the curve of a central Lisbon road leading to the park where the pope solemnly commemorated the Stations of the Cross. They sang their anthem between Christian rock songs that blared from loudspeakers, and English-speaking members were sent to speak to the young marchers.
“Russia is killing us every day,” said Vira Ivanchuk, 24, to several Spanish girls who stopped to look at the rows of Ukrainians. “The faces on the shirts are a small percentage of the kids they kill.”
When they left, Ms. Ivanchuk why he felt he had to make his case.
“I understand that maybe this is not the place, a festival, where people want to talk about it,” he said. “But we need more weapons. We need F-16s, because we don’t have aerial capabilities. We need more weapons, support, economic sanctions, and please pray for us.”
The park continued to be filled with 800,000 young Catholics while the Ukrainians barely moved. Some traded traditional Ukrainian dolls with Americans who gave them red, white and blue rubber bracelets.
Olena Syniuhu, 19, from Lviv, who handed out the dolls, said she was nervous that some of the young people – especially the Americans, who she said “gave us tremendous support” – would resent the them. Instead, he said, he found himself next to a group of teenagers from Miami on Thursday night who made it clear that “we’re with them. I could see in their eyes, it was like free therapy.”
said Ms. Syniuhu that he doesn’t see any Russians there, “and I don’t want to see any.”
Other pilgrims stopped to hug the Ukrainians.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Anna Susanetto, 18, from Italy, hugging the girls.
“I want to tell them that I am with them and against Russia,” said Kristina Kosarkova, 16, from the Czech Republic. “I want the pope to unite the world for Ukraine, and against Russia.”
Josephine José Alimene, 27, from Mozambique, cried when she saw the rows of Ukrainians. Some of the Ukrainian women came up to hug him.
Accepted by Ms. Alimene and her friend Thelma Mangue, 44, who both wiped their eyes with flowing skirts, the consolation. “We know what it’s like to be in war,” said Ms. Mango.
The event was about to begin, and Francis arrived in his popemobile, circling the Marquis of Pombal Square, the perimeter where the Ukrainians were standing. As the pilgrims rushed to get a closer look, the Ukrainians stopped.
Ms. Koval expressed hope that Francis would use his visit to Fátima to pray for them.
“I don’t want him to say that Ukraine should forgive Russia, because many of our people are dying and we will never forgive them,” she said through tears. “And I hate Russia for that.”