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Pope Arrives In Kazakhstan To Take Part In Religious Congress, Condemns War In Ukraine


Pope Francis (left) speaks with Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Nur-Sultan on September 13.
Pope Francis (left) speaks with Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Nur-Sultan on September 13.

Pope Francis has arrived in Kazakhstan to take part in a gathering of leaders of world religious leaders -- though without Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill -- amid tensions over Russia's war in Ukraine.

The Kazakh presidential press service said the plane carrying the 85-year-old pope landed in Nur-Sultan shortly after 5:15 p.m. local time on September 13. The pope will be in Kazakhstan for three days.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev greeted Pope Francis at the airport and the two leaders held talks, after which they met with civil society representatives and diplomats. Francis said he came to the Central Asian nation "to echo the plea of all those who cry out for peace."

"Now is the time to stop intensifying rivalries and reinforcing opposing blocs," the pope said, calling for a new "spirit of Helsinki," referring to 1975 accords that helped bring an end to the Cold War.

Francis addressed Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, calling it "tragic and senseless" and emphasizing that Russia was responsible for the war in Ukraine. Francis was previously criticized for not doing so when the Russian invasion began in late February.

Toqaev said it was a "great honor" to welcome Pope Francis to his country.

"You arrived in Kazakhstan at a milestone time in the history of humankind. I believe that the time has come for representatives of different cultures and religions to show wisdom and energy to unite people for the sake of peace, social harmony, and mutual support," Toqaev said.

Francis said earlier that he hoped to meet Patriarch Kirill at the inter-religious summit, but last week, Kirill's spokesman said the patriarch would not attend the event.

Since the beginning of Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine launched on February 24, Kirill has made a number of statements in solidarity with the policy of Russian authorities on the war, prompting Pope Francis to warn him against becoming President Vladimir Putin's “altar boy."

More than 150 Russian Orthodox clerics called for a stop to the war in an open letter on March 1. Kirill was not among those who signed it.

With reporting by dpa, AP, and AFP
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