Pope Francis on Sunday spoke out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rejecting Moscow’s claims that the military activities in the eastern European country are part of a “special military operation.”

Speaking during his weekly address at St Peter’s square in the Vatican City, Pope Francis said, “In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears are flowing. This is not just a military operation but a war which sows death, destruction and misery.”

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The Pope also went on to urge peace and diplomacy, and appealed for the maintenance of humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians, efforts at which have been disrupted over the past couple of days due to Russian shelling.

“In that martyred country the need for humanitarian assistance is growing by the hour. War is madness, please stop,” appealed the 85-year-old.

Pope Francis also said that the Vatican was taking efforts to ease the suffering of those affected by the war.

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“The Holy See is willing to do everything to put itself at the service of peace,” said Pope Francis, referring to the Vatican’s decision to send Cardinals Konrad Krajewski from Poland and Michael Czerny from Canada to Ukraine to help those in need.

Although Pope Francis did not explicitly mention Russia, his speech on Sunday marked the harshest condemnation issued by the Roman Catholic leader since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24.

It was also welcomed by Ukrainian diplomats, with Andriy Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, telling Reuters that he was “very, very happy” with the Pope’s decision to call the ongoing military conflict a ‘war’.

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A day after the invasion began, the Pope Francis had paid an unannounced visit to the Russian embassy to the Holy See to express his concerns about the war in Ukraine.

Since the invasion began, hundreds of civilians have been killed in Ukraine, while millions have fled. Reports also suggest that thousands of soldiers have been killed on both sides.