Francis’ remarks during a trip to Malta were the closest he has come to pinning the war in Ukraine on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday inched closer to blaming President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine and said that a trip to Kyiv was possible as he arrived in Malta for a short visit emphasizing the plight of migrants, an issue that has long topped the pontiff’s agenda and that has become critical with the war in Ukraine.
On the flight to Malta from Rome, Francis responded to a reporter’s question about visiting Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, by saying that it was “on the table.” Then in his address to the dignitaries and officials in a frescoed government chamber in Malta, Francis blamed a “potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests,” for casting “dark shadows of war” from Europe’s east.
Francis has refused to explicitly cite Mr. Putin or Russia as the aggressor for a variety of reasons, including the Vatican’s hopes of playing a part in a potential peace agreement, and out of precaution so as to not endanger Roman Catholics across the world. But on Saturday, he clearly seemed to be speaking about Mr. Putin, who, Francis said, was “provoking and fomenting conflicts.”
“We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” the pope added. “However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all.”
Francis, 85, spoke on Saturday during his 36th foreign trip since his election in 2013, but those years have taken a toll on him. He boarded the plane in Rome with the help of an elevator, as an inflamed ligament in his right knee and sciatica have recently increased his limp and reduced his mobility.
Once in Malta, he walked with difficulty — and with the help of an aide. Vatican officials raised concerns about his sailing later in the day on a catamaran to the island of Gozo and his navigating the steps into the Grotto of St. Paul on Sunday in Rabat, in northern Malta.
The trip, originally planned for May 2020, was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and now comes amid another unforeseen global disaster, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bombing of civilians and forcing of another migration crisis. Before leaving Rome, he met with Ukrainian mothers and children who had escaped the war.
The pope, wearing his white robes over black pants, met with officials and dignitaries of an island that, according to the Scriptures, welcomed the Apostle Paul with “unusual kindness” when he was shipwrecked there, an image he played on in his address to appeal for better treatment of migrants.