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Pope Francis wants end to blockade of Ukrainian grain exports ‘to guarantee the universal human right to food’

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Smoke rises above a plant run by Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 20, 2022. (CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

By Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis appealed on Wednesday for a resolution to the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports, condemning the use of a staple food “as a weapon of war.”

“Of great concern is the blockade of grain exports from Ukraine, on which the lives of millions of people, especially in the poorest countries, depend,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on June 1.

“Please do not use wheat, a staple food, as a weapon of war,” he urged.

Without mentioning Russia by name, the pope said that he was making “a heartfelt appeal that every effort be made to resolve this issue and to guarantee the universal human right to food.”

Russia’s blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has prevented Ukraine from exporting 22 million tons of grain, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Pope Francis kisses a Ukrainian flag while meeting with a group of Ukrainians after his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 27, 2022.(CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The missing exports from the country known before the Russia-Ukraine war as “Europe’s breadbasket” have sparked fears of a global food crisis.

Russia claims that sanctions are responsible for the food crisis, while many Western governments point to Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian seaports.

David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, has said that the failure to open Ukrainian ports “will result in famine and destabilization and mass migration around the world.”

“It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine, this is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak,” Beasley commented.

Pope Francis made his appeal at the end of a livestreamed Wednesday general audience, which he dedicated to the theme of old age, describing it as a time to rediscover trust in the Lord.

The pope spoke the day after he offered a rosary for peace in Ukraine and around the world in Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major.

“We have consecrated the warring nations to your Immaculate Heart and asked for the great gift of the conversion of hearts. We are confident that with the weapons of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the gift of your grace, the hearts of men and the fortunes of the whole world can be changed,” the pope said at the basilica.