Vatican: Pope Francis’ ‘White Flag’ Remark a Call for Negotiations, Not Ukraine’s Surrender

The Holy Father made the remark during an interview recorded last month with Swiss broadcaster RSI.

Pope Francis presides over a penitential service at St. Pius V Parish in Rome on March 8, 2024.
Pope Francis presides over a penitential service at St. Pius V Parish in Rome on March 8, 2024. (photo: Daniel Ibañez/CNA / EWTN)

The Vatican on Saturday said Pope Francis did not mean to suggest that Ukraine ought to surrender to Russia when he referred to “the courage of the white flag” in a newly released television interview.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified that Pope Francis was calling instead for a cease-fire and negotiations. Bruni explained that the Pope was picking up on the interviewer’s use of the term “white flag,” an international symbol of surrender, adding that the Pope remains hopeful that a diplomatic solution can be reached for a “just and lasting peace,” The New York Times reported.

The Holy Father made the remark during an interview recorded last month with Swiss broadcaster RSI. Portions of the interview were released on Saturday. Reuters said the interview will be broadcast March 20.

“I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates,” Francis said, according to an English translation of the Pope's comments in Italian.

“Today, for example,” he continued, “in the war in Ukraine, there are many that want to be mediators, no? Turkey for example. Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”

On March 8, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan offered to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia to end the war. 

Francis said in the RSI interview that “the word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word.”

"When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate,” he said. “Negotiations are never a surrender.”

The Pope also repeated his offer to act as a mediator between the two countries.

In recent months Russia has gained an upper hand on the ground as Ukraine runs low on ammunition and manpower and its bid to garner additional military aid from the U.S. has stalled in Congress.

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich

EDITORIAL: The Pope’s comments regarding women’s ordination in his interview with CBS put a damper on the movement to alter the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and diaconate.