By Philip Pullella
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -Pope Francis paid tribute on Sunday to journalists killed during the Ukraine war saying he hoped God would reward them for serving the common good whatever side they were on.
Speaking to journalists aboard the plane returning from Malta, Francis also repeated that he was ready to make a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but added that he had yet to decide if it would be feasible.
“I would like to express my condolences for your fallen colleagues, whatever side they were from,” he said.
“Your job is a job for the common good. They have fallen in service of the common good of information. Let’s not forget that they were courageous. I pray for them, I pray that the Lord rewards their work.”
At least six journalists have now died since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February.
Francis said he was also getting information on Ukraine in telephone contacts every few days with Rome-based Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué, a personal friend who has been covering the war from the start.
On his way to Malta on Saturday Francis said a trip to Kyiv was “on the table”.
“I am willing to do everything that can be done. The Holy See is doing everything on the diplomatic side. For reasons of prudence and confidentiality, we can’t make everything public,” he said on the plane.
“I don’t know if it (a trip to Ukraine) can be made, if it is convenient to make it and if it would be for the good … all is up in the air,” he said.
He said he had spoken twice to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy since the war started but indicated that the last time he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin was at the start of the year.
In a speech on Saturday, Francis implicitly criticised Putin over the invasion, saying a “potentate” was fomenting conflict for nationalist interests.
Francis has strongly condemned what he has called an “unjustified aggression” and denounced “atrocities” but he has only referred to Russia directly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25.
He said he would like to meet this year with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose support for the war has split the worldwide Orthodox community.
During the Malta trip the 85-year-old pope was suffering from a flare-up of knee pain due to an inflamed ligament that forced him to use lifts to board and disembark planes. He also had to sit for parts of a long Mass on Sunday.
“My health is a bit capricious,” he said in response to a question. “This knee problem with moving, walking. But it is getting better. Two weeks I couldn’t do anything. It’s slow going but at this age we don’t know how the match will end. I hope it goes well”.
Francis stood for about 20 minutes speaking to journalists while on the plane and did not appear to be in any discomfort.
(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Alexandra Hudson and Chizu Nomiyama)