Ukraine: Pope thanks Poland for opening hearts and homes to refugees

"Never again war!" Pontiff appeals for peace in Ukraine.

Pope Francis is calling for prayers and fasting for peace in Ukraine on 2 March, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar.

The pope said it is "a day to be close to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, to be aware that we are all brothers and sisters, and to implore God for an end to the war."

During his weekly general audience this morning the pope said he is "deeply grateful" to the people of Poland for being "the first to support Ukraine by opening borders, hearts and homes to Ukrainians fleeing war", reports the Catholic News Service.

Francis noted that the priest reading the Polish translation of his remarks at the audience was in fact Ukrainian, the Italian bishops' newspaper Avvenire reports.

"Right now his parents are in an underground shelter to defend themselves from bombs, in a place near Kyiv", the pope said.

Thanking the Ukrainian friar for "continuing his duty here, with us", the pope remembered all those "who are suffering from the bombings, his elderly parents and many elderly people who are in the underground to defend themselves. We carry in our hearts the memory of these people.”

The pontiff continues to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, decrying the "diabolical and perverse logic of weapons", and appealing for the opening of humanitarian corridors for refugees fleeing the conflict.

Francis has also been using his Pontifex Twitter account to write messages in Ukrainian and English as part of a social media campaign to denounce war and to appeal for peace, accompanied by the hashtags #PrayTogether #Ukraine.

On Saturday he spoke by phone to Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to express his "most profound pain for the tragic events" unfolding in the country, and during the Angelus the next day he said that his "heart is broken" by the war.

On Friday the pontiff broke Vatican protocol by paying a surprise visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See, to convey his opposition to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this week the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the Holy See is ready to "facilitate dialogue" between Russia and Ukraine, saying there is "a need to avoid any escalation, stop the violence and negotiate."