By Ann Schneible
On Sunday the Holy Father again pleaded for peace in Ukraine as the nation faces ongoing cease-fire violations in a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since early last year.
“With concern, I am following the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has again worsened in recent weeks,” the pontiff said Aug. 23 during his weekly Angelus address.
“I renew my appeal that the commitments undertaken to bring about peace may be respected, and with the help of organizations and persons of good will, they might respond to the humanitarian emergency of the country.”
The Pope made these remarks from the papal palace to pilgrims and visitors gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, one day ahead of Ukraine’s national Independence Day.
The Holy Father’s words come amid ongoing cease-fire violations, with one person having been killed and four others injured in clashes in Donetsk in the last 24 hours, according to Reuters.
Ukraine is also preparing for a parliamentary vote on Aug. 31 to amend their constitution and grant special status to regions in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russian leanings, the agency reported.
Beginning with street protests in November 2013, the conflict escalated early the following year, in events which included the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.
More than 6,500 people, including civilians, have been killed in the fighting between Ukraine’s military and pro-Russian separatists.
“May the Lord grant peace to Ukraine, which prepares to celebrate its national holiday tomorrow. May the Virgin Mary intercede for us!” the Pope said.
Earlier this year at the Vatican, Pope Francis held a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, addressing the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The June 10 meeting touched upon the need to pursue peace in Ukraine, the necessity to build dialogue, and the ongoing humanitarian situation.
Mention was also made of the serious humanitarian situation, with particular regard to the access of humanitarian workers to areas in need.
Putin has been a key player in the war in eastern Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government and Western nations, Russian arms and soldiers are fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
Putin has denied that any Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine.