(CP) As Russian forces carry out their offensive across Ukraine and move closer to the capital city of Kyiv, nearly 100 Christian leaders in the United States have sent an open letter to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill urging him to withdraw his support for the invasion that has led to "tragic and terrible loss of innocent civilian life."
The open letter signed by the heads of denominations and charities, as well as prominent writers and activists, is an "earnest plea" that Kirill, who is believed to be close to President Vladimir Putin, use his "voice and profound influence to call for an end to the hostilities and war in Ukraine and intervene with" Russian authorities to do so.
During a sermon on March 5, Kirill echoed Putin's propaganda that Ukraine was engaged in the "extermination" of Russian loyalists and described the war as a spiritual struggle against the West's "so-called values," including LGBT indoctrination, Georgetown University and Center on Faith + Justice noted in a statement announcing the letter.
In response, the statement said, Christian leaders told Kirill, "We are in the season of Lent. In that Lenten spirit, we ask you to prayerfully reconsider the support you have given to this war because of the horrendous human suffering it has unleashed."
In 2012, the patriarch called Putin's rule a "miracle of God" and criticized his opponents, according to Reuters.
The Christian leaders wrote: "We make this appeal with no political agenda. Before God, we bear witness that there is no religious justification from any side for the destruction and terror the world is witnessing daily. Our first allegiance is always to our Lord Jesus Christ. This transcends the narrow claims of all nations and ideologies."
The signatories include: the Rev. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, president of Churches Uniting in Christ of board chair of the National Council of Churches; and the Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, president of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday that 1,506 civilian casualties had been recorded in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24. The casualties include 549 deaths and 957 injuries. However, the numbers do not include casualties in Ukraine's southern port city of Mariupol, which has been under attack this week.
On Friday, a photographer of The Associated Press saw a Russian tank that appeared to fire directly on an apartment building. The newswire reported that a maternity hospital was also bombed this week, sparking international outrage and war-crime allegations.
Mariupol's death toll has passed 1,500 in 12 days of attack, it said, quoting the mayor's office. Shelling forced crews to stop digging trenches for mass graves, so the "dead aren't even being buried," the mayor said.
About 2.5 million people have fled the country since the invasion began, the newswire said.
Last week, more than 280 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church also called for reconciliation and an immediate end to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, stressing that "the Last Judgement awaits all."
"We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected," the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in an open letter. "The Last Judgment awaits every person."
The clerics added, "No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother's curses."
More than 400 ministers of Evangelical churches in Russia have also signed an open letter against "the invasion of sovereign Ukraine."
"Our army is conducting full-scale military operations in another country, dropping bombs and rockets on the cities of our neighboring Ukraine. As believers, we assess what is happening as a grave sin of fratricide — the sin of Cain, who raised his hand against his brother Abel," they wrote.
"No political interests or goals can justify the death of innocent people," the ministers continued. "In addition to bloodshed, the invasion of sovereign Ukraine encroaches on the freedom of self-determination of its citizens. Hatred is being sown between our peoples, which will create an abyss of alienation and enmity for generations to come. The war is destroying not only Ukraine, but also Russia — its people, its economy, its morality, its future."