On August 25, 2023, during a video call with participants at the Russian Youth Day in St. Petersburg, Pope Francis said:
"You are heirs of the great Russia, the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great, enlightened Russian empire, of so much culture, so much humanity. Never set aside this legacy. You are heirs of the great Mother Russia, so go forward and thanks for your way of being and for your mode of being Russians."
Though Russians praised the Popes' statements, the criticism it brought in Ukraine led to the Holy See Press Office issuing a press release, stating: "In the words of greeting addressed to several young Russian Catholics a few days ago, as is clear from the context in which he pronounced them, the Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote what is positive in Russia's great cultural and spiritual heritage, and certainly not to exalt imperialistic logics and governmental personalities, cited to indicate certain historical periods of reference."
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zakharova: Moscow "Highly appreciates the Vatican's balanced line"
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "[Moscow] highly appreciates the Vatican's balanced line on the Ukrainian conflict and the efforts of the Holy See and Pope Francis personally aimed at a peaceful settlement, which unfortunately are openly rejected by the Kiev regime."
Kremlin Spokesman Peskov: "The Pope Knows Russian History"
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "The Pope knows Russian history, and that is very good. [Our history] is quite deep; its roots go very deep," Peskov said, noting that this heritage is not limited to 18th-century sovereigns Peter I and Catherine II, but "is much older."