Pope Francis has said that a special collection will be taken up in all of Europe’s Catholic churches on 24 April to raise funds to help the people of Ukraine, which is facing renewed conflict and political tensions.
Despite a peace deal agreed last year in Belarus, the nation continues to be in dire need of aid amid continuing violence and political turmoil.
The Pope told tens of thousands of people at the end of Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, that the collection was a “gesture of charity that, apart from alleviating material suffering, shows my personal closeness as well as that of the entire Church” to the people of Ukraine.
The Pope’s call for compassion comes at a time when the former Soviet republic remains in turmoil. International observers note that violence has intensified recently in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Officials on both sides say several people have been killed and injured in renewed fighting in recent weeks. Kiev said at least one Ukrainian soldier was killed and eight others injured in the clashes over the weekend.
It comes as a major setback for negotiators who had hoped that a peace deal agreed last year in Minsk, Belarus, would finally end a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people. The ongoing clashes have also impacted up to 1.7 million people, including many children, who have fled their homes in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia, and the eastern Donbass region.
The vast majority of Christians living in Ukraine are Orthodox but there are about a million Roman Catholics and some four million Eastern Rite Catholics.
Source: Vatican Radio