Ukraine Trip Is Ecumenical, Insists John Paul II

Moscow Patriarch Asks for Postponement

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VATICAN CITY, APR. 10, 2001 ( John Paul II sent a letter to Metropolitan Vladimir, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church obedient to the Moscow Patriarchate, stressing that his trip to that country is of an ecumenical nature.

The letter was given to the metropolitan in Kiev last Saturday by Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who up until now has been responsible for organizing papal trips.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls gave no details on the content of the letter. But sources said the Holy Father emphasized the ecumenical character of his upcoming June 23-27 visit to Ukraine.

The news of the letter coincided with the publication of an interview with Moscow´s Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II, in the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana. Alexis II asked that John Paul II postpone his trip to Ukraine, and he reiterated his criticism of the Catholic Church, accusing it of proselytism.

According to Alexis II, if the Pope wishes to take a further step in the process of rapprochement and improvement of relations between Catholics and Orthodox, the best thing he can do is to postpone his visit.

Likewise, the Russian Orthodox leader hinted that he had been pressured to accept the Holy Father´s visit. «If one looks attentively at the visits the Pope has made or plans to make to countries of Orthodox tradition, one can see how the state authorities have always exerted pressure on the local Orthodox Churches to ensure their approval,» Alexis II explained.

The patriarch of Moscow´s voice was also raised against the Orthodox who have separated from his obedience with a schism and are reflecting greater openness to ecumenical dialogue. This is the case of Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev, who went from being the principal antagonist of Patriarch Alexis II in the Holy Synod to being excommunicated by the Russian patriarch and reduced to the lay state.

In response, Filaret has proclaimed himself patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At the same time, he has succeeded in becoming the principal spokesman of the Ukrainian political leaders.

Moreover, several hundred parishes met in the «autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church.» This current is inspired in the «Orthodoxy of the catacombs,» which never accepted the impositions of the Soviet regime.

Maintaining its organization centers abroad, it recognizes as its «spiritual guide» Metropolitan Konstantin, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, discreetly supported by the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself.

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