Lithuania summons Vatican over Pope Francis describing Russia as 'enlightened'

The Lithuanian government has asked to meet the Vatican representative to clarify comments Pope Francis delivered to a gathering of Catholic Russian youth, which have been interpreted by many as glorifying the Russian empire. File Photo by Giuseppe Lami/EPA-EFE

Aug. 30 (UPI) -- The Lithuanian government has invited the Vatican representative to clarify comments delivered by Pope Francis to a gathering of Catholic Russian youth. Francis triggered controversy when he made comments seen by some as glorifying the Russian empire and referring to it as "enlightened."

"You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, that empire -- great, enlightened, great culture and great humanity," Francis told the gathering Friday.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited the Apostolic Nuncio for an interview in early September, when Archbishop Petar Rajic returns from vacation," the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, Paulina Levickyte said, according to the Lithuanian broadcaster LRT.

The comments prompted angry reactions from Ukrainian officials.

"It is very unfortunate that Russian grand-state ideas, which, in fact, are the cause of Russia's chronic aggression, knowingly or unknowingly, come from the Pope's mouth, whose mission, in our understanding, is precisely to open the eyes of Russian youth to the disastrous course of the current Russian leadership," Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

The Vatican said the comment was not meant to justify Russian imperialism.

"The Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference," the Vatican said in a statement published Tuesday.