Pope Francis Takes Implied Swipe at Vladimir Putin in War Comments

Pope Francis has tacitly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over the ongoing invasion of Ukraine and lamented what he described as the "dark shadows of war."

The pontiff referred to "some potentate" in his comments on Thursday as he took aim at "anachronistic" conceptions of national interest.

His statement comes as Russian forces in Ukraine are reportedly withdrawing from the area around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, while Ukrainian forces are advancing.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church made the remarks at the beginning of a two-day visit to the island nation of Malta and though he did not mention Putin by name, his comments will be seen as his strongest criticism yet of the Russian leader.

"From the east of Europe, from the land of the sunrise, the dark shadows of war have now spread," the pope said. "We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past."

"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 went on.

"Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that, will either be shared, or not be at all," the pontiff added.

Russia has a Roman Catholic population of more than 700,000, or 0.5 percent of its people, according to figures from the CIA World Factbook and the Pew Research Center.

Earlier on Saturday, Pope Francis was asked by a reporter en route to Malta if he would consider accepting an invitation to visit Kyiv and he replied: "Yes, it is on the table."

The pope offered no details about a potential visit. He has been invited to the Ukrainian capital by President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as the city's mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic Church and Ukraine's ambassador to the Holy See.

Francis has reportedly spoken by phone with Zelensky and Shevchuk.

While the pope has previously condemned the violence in Ukraine, he has not directly criticized Putin or the Russian government.

Pontiffs in the modern era have also expressed their opposition to armed conflict, frequently focusing on the suffering caused by war.

In January, 2003, the Pope John Paul II condemned a possible invasion of Iraq, which was then led by dictator Saddam Hussein.

"No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity," the late pope said.

"War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," the pontiff added.

A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March, 2003 and Hussein's government was overthrown. Hussein went into hiding but was later captured, found guilty over the 1982 Dujail massacre and hanged on December 30, 2006.

Pope Francis Celebrates Vespers
Pope Francis presides at the celebration of Second Vespers on the feast of the Conversion of the Apostle Paul at Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls on January 25, 2022 in Rome, Italy. The pope offered criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday but did not mention his name. Alessandra Benedetti via Vatican Pool/Getty Images