Ukraine war: Pope Francis cries as he mentions the suffering of Ukrainians during public prayer

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By Andrea Carlo  with Reuters
Pope Francis prays in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, on the occasion of the Immaculate Conception feast in Rome. Thursday, 8 December 2022
Pope Francis prays in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, on the occasion of the Immaculate Conception feast in Rome. Thursday, 8 December 2022   -   Copyright  Gregorio Borgia/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

Pope Francis was moved to tears on Thursday while mentioning the suffering of Ukrainians during a traditional public prayer in central Rome.

The Pontiff found himself swept with emotion and unable to speak for 30 seconds upon calling for peace for the Ukrainian people, who have been fighting Russia's aggression for over nine months.

"Immaculate Virgin, today I would have wanted to bring you the thanks of the Ukrainian people [for peace]," he said, as his voice trembled and he found himself having to stop.

The crowd, including city mayor Roberto Gualtieri who was standing to the Pope's side, applauded when they realised he was unable to talk and saw him crying.

Francis eventually managed to continue, his voice cracking: "Instead, once again I have to bring you the pleas of children, of the elderly, of fathers and mothers, of the young people of that martyred land, which is suffering so much."

The prayer was part of the pope's annual ceremony to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday and 168-year-old tradition which kickstarts Italy's Christmas season. 

Held at the foot of the Madonna's statue near the city's iconic Spanish Steps, the piazza was teaming with crowds eager to meet the wheelchair-bound Pontiff, who took his time to greet those attending.

The Pope -- who has mentioned Ukraine in almost all of his public appearances and has taken an increasingly critical stance towards Moscow -- further commented on the conflict when speaking to a journalist at the event.

"Yes. It [the war in Ukraine] is an enormous suffering, enormous. A defeat for humanity," Francis said.

Shortly after his intervention, Rome lit up its iconic Christmas lights on Via del Corso, the city's main thoroughfare, which also included a plea for peace seemingly intended for Ukraine.

"There is no salvation in war: oh, peace, we all beg for you," the giant message read, quoting ancient Roman poet Virgil.