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By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis on Wednesday led a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine, calling for dialogue to prevail over partisan interests to resolve the West's standoff with Russia.
Francis last Sunday called on https://www.reuters.com/world/pope-calls-an-international-day-prayer-peace-over-ukraine-crisis-2022-01-23 people of all religious to pray on Wednesday for an end to the crisis https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-says-destructive-sanctions-wouldnt-hurt-putin-personally-2022-01-26, saying the tensions were threatening the security of Europe and risking vast repercussions.
"I ask you to pray for peace in Ukraine and to do it often in the course of the day," Francis said at his weekly general audience, adding that he hoped "wounds, fears, and divisions" can be overcome.
As people prayed in Ukraine and elsewhere, Francis said he hoped the "supplications that today rise up to heaven touch the minds and hearts of world leaders, so that dialogue may prevail and the common good be placed ahead of partisan interests".
Going off script, he recalled that more than five million people died in Ukraine during World War Two and that people there had also suffered hunger and "so much cruelty".
This was an apparent reference to the estimated 3-4 million Ukrainians who died in the early 1930s when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin imposed the collectivisation of agriculture and other policies aimed at crushing Ukrainian nationalism.
The tragedy, which a number of countries have recognised as a form of genocide, is called the Holodomor and is also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine.
"They are a suffering people," the pope said of Ukrainians.
On Wednesday night the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, led a prayer service for peace in Ukraine in a Rome basilica that was attended by the Russian ambassador to the Vatican as well as the chargé d'affaires of the Ukrainian and U.S. embassies.
In his homily, Gallagher said: "It is even more scandalous that those who suffer the most from conflicts are not those who decide to start them but above all the unarmed victims."
Western leaders have stepped up military preparations and made plans to shield Europe from a potential energy supply shock if Russia invades Ukraine.
Top U.S. and Russian diplomats failed on Friday to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis, although they agreed to keep talking.
(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O'Brien)