© Reuters. Pope Francis attends the mass for World day for Grandparents and the Elderly in St Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican July 23, 2023. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo
By Alvise Armellini
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis on Sunday called on Russia to reverse its decision to abandon the Black Sea grain deal, under which it had allowed Ukraine to export grain from its seaports despite the ongoing war.
Russia walked out of the Black Sea deal on July 17 after saying its demands to ease sanctions on its own grain and fertilizer exports had not been met. Moscow also complained that not enough grain had reached poor countries.
“I appeal to my brothers, the authorities of the Russian Federation, so that the Black Sea initiative may be resumed and grain may be transported safely,” Francis said during his weekly Angelus message.
Global wheat prices have spiked since Russia quit the pact, which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July 2022, and began targeting Ukrainian ports and grain infrastructure on the Black Sea and Danube River.
Addressing crowds in St Peter’s Square, the pope urged the faithful to continue praying “for martyred Ukraine, where war is destroying everything, even grain,” calling this “a grave insult to God.”
The leader of the world’s nearly 1.4 billion Catholics said “the cry of millions of brothers and sisters who are suffering from hunger is rising up to the sky”.
In a message on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed Francis’ words.
“The reaction of the world’s religious leaders to the Russian missile terror and destruction of Ukrainian agricultural products is extremely important to protect the whole world, and especially the peoples of Africa and Asia, who suffer the most from the threat of hunger, from a food crisis,” he wrote.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to supply Africa with grain, some of it for free, but the chair of the African Union, Azali Assoumani, responded that this “may be not quite enough”.
Since the conflict in Ukraine broke out last year, Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s war of aggression, but has also sought to keep an open channel of communication with Moscow, with apparently limited results.
In May, he tasked the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to act as a peace envoy. Zuppi has so far been to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington and is working on the repatriation of children from Russia and Russia-controlled areas to Ukraine.