Pope Francis said Wednesday that “increasingly alarming scenarios” were emerging in Ukraine that were threatening “the peace of all” amid fears of a Russian invasion.
“Despite the diplomatic efforts of these past weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are emerging,” the pontiff said at the end of his weekly general audience.
“I ask all of the parties involved to abstain from any action that could cause still more suffering for the population,” he said.
Francis also said that next Wednesday, which is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and the beginning of the period of Lent, would be a “day of fasting and of prayer for peace”.
“So that the reign of peace can preserve the world against the madness of war,” he said.
The pope has already called for peace in Ukraine.
But the latest comments are his strongest yet and come two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “peacekeepers” to move into two breakaway Ukrainian regions now recognised by Moscow as independent.
The move has further raised fear Russia could move into other parts of Ukraine.