Most Ukrainians Favor Papal Visit, Surveys Say

But Many Are Unaware of June 23-27 Trip

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KIEV, Ukraine, MAY 21, 2001 ( Most Ukrainians favor John Paul II´s upcoming visits to Kiev and Lvov, if they care about them at all, new surveys indicate.

The surveys were undertaken from February to April by the SOCIS Center of Sociological Studies, one of the most prestigious Ukrainian organizations for sociological research and market studies.

About 44% of those surveyed said they were atheists. SOCIS also found widespread ignorance about the papal visit, which, the center warned, allows opponents of the trip to manipulate public opinion.

SOCIS noted that the opposition of the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate to the June 23-27 papal visit reflects its fear of loss of influence over the Orthodox community in Ukraine.

In February, those surveyed were asked: «What is your opinion about the papal visit to Ukraine?» The responses were as follows: very positive: 23%; positive: 21%; somewhat positive: 14%; negative: 2%; indifferent: 23%; no opinion: 15%.

In an April survey, people´s perception of the Pope were: very positive: 60%; negative: 6%. But 34% were indifferent or ignorant of who the Pope is.

Asked about the reason for the papal visit to Ukraine, 33% said the question was too hard to answer; 39% cited the consolidation of spiritual unity among Christians.

Other results indicated:

–13% of Ukrainians believe that the Pope is visiting their country as head of Vatican State.

–In February, 3% believed the papal visit was to further Catholic proselytism.

Asked in April about the possible consequences of the papal visit:

–20% said it is a historic visit that will increase Ukraine´s prestige internationally.

–17% said the visit will foster a return to Christian principles at the level of public relations and political life.

Most of those skeptical about the Pope´s trip said his visit could increase Catholic-Orthodox tensions: 5% of all those surveyed in February believed this; that figure rose to 7% in April.

Another 4% said the visit is unnecessary, since the country is majority Orthodox. An equal percentage said the visit is part of a plan for Catholic expansion in the world. And 2% said the visit would cause concern for relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Fully 45% had no idea what the consequences of the papal visit would be.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a new Criminal Code today that formally abolished the nation´s death penalty, putting it in line with most European countries, the Associated Press reported. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by parliament last month. Kuchma signed it Friday and the new code takes effect June 1.

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