Pope Francis at the screening of the documentary on Ukraine  (Vatican Media)

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Feb 26 2023

On the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis attends a screening at the Vatican of the documentary “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” sponsored by filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky. The Pope meets with those featured in the production, including the mother of a soldier from Azovstal and the owner of the city’s steel mill. Praying in conclusion, he said may God “heal our hearts, our minds, our eyes.”

“Why can’t we live in peace? It’s so simple…” With those heartbreaking words and much emotion, a Ukrainian child posed that question to the world in the documentary “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” The production by film director Evgeny Afineevsky was viewed on Saturday afternoon at the Vatican’s New Synod Hall on the day marking the one-year anniversary of what Pope Francis has called an “absurd” war.

The Pope and little Sviatoslav

The Pope himself, seated in the back row, watched the documentary and met at the conclusion with some of the documentary’s protagonists. Among them was Anya Zaitseva, the wife of a captured soldier, to the Pope’s right with little Sviatoslav, one year and four months old, in her arms. 

The fear of a people

The Pope gave his blessing to all of them and asked them to pray together at the end of the documentary. “Let us pray!” he said in English, visibly moved by the documentary, characterized by its stark images and realism, revealing the horrors of war. The documentary expresses the fear of an entire people, particularly in one scene when one of the protagonists makes an appeal for an end to the war as soon as possible, or if it continues on this path “we will all destroy ourselves.”

“The spirit of war is to destroy”

Pope Francis also spoke of war destruction in the prayer he recited with those present, asking the Lord to heal humanity from the flow of hatred that fuels war: “When God made man, he said to take the earth, make it grow, make it beautiful. The spirit of war is the opposite: to destroy, to destroy, not to let grow, to destroy everyone, men, women, children, the elderly, everyone,” the Pope explained. He added, “Today marks one year of this war. Let us look at Ukraine, let us pray for Ukraine, and open our hearts to sorrow. Let us not be ashamed to suffer and weep, for war is destruction, a war always diminishes us. May God make us understand this.”

“Sow in us the seed of peace”

The Pope offered a prayer in conclusion, saying, “Our Father who art in heaven… look on our failings, look at our wounds, see our pain, look also on our selfishness, our lowly interests and the capacity we have to destroy. Heal our hearts, heal our minds, heal our eyes so that they are able to see the beauty that you have made and that we may not destroy it through our selfishness. Sow in us the seed of peace.”

Meeting with the mother of a soldier

Before leaving, the Pope met with the mother of one of the soldiers barricaded in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. He was captured by Russian soldiers and is currently still a prisoner. With the help of a priest interpreter, the mother told the Pope that her son has lost 40 kg (88 lbs) in recent months and shared her wish that he and the other soldiers who have been fighting “in defense of freedom” may soon be freed. She presented the Pope with three gifts: a flower, symbolizing resistance until freedom is achieved; a yellow and blue flag of Ukraine, which Francis kissed and blessed; and a bag of salt, a typical gift in Ukraine. “It is the salt of the earth,” she said, symbolizing the “strength” that is needed in this “very powerful, very tragic battle.”

The Pope also greeted the owner of Azovstal steelworks who offered the symbolic gift of a bracelet made from metal produced by the plant. The Pope put it on his wrist and then asked that we pray for each other and especially the tormented people of Ukraine. – Vatican News