Ukraine Seen as Bridge Between East and West

Nation´s 2 Cardinals View Upcoming Papal Visit

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2001 ( John Paul II´s visit to Ukraine next month will help promote reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, say the country´s two cardinals.

A day after the consistory´s closure, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Lviv, and Cardinal Marian Jaworski, archbishop of Lviv of the Latins, told the Vatican Press Office some of their expectations for the June 23-27 papal visit.

Ukraine is a land of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow opposes the papal visit, because it regards the trip as a support for the Greek-Catholics, who maintain the tradition and liturgy of the Orthodox Churches but are faithful to the Pope.

Cardinal Husar, leader of Greek-Catholics in Ukraine, sees things differently.

Greek-Catholics in Ukraine, who date back to 988, remained in the sphere of Constantinople´s cultural influence, but did not separate from Rome in the Great Schism of 1054.

From then on, «this Church has wanted to be Catholic and Orthodox at the same time, because these concepts are not contradictory, but complement one another in the universality of the Catholic Church,» Cardinal Husar explained.

«Indeed,» he added, «the Church would not be totally Catholic, that is, universal, if it only accepted one rite, the Latin. The Church´s catholicity entails its diversity and, as John Paul II often reiterates, it breathes with two lungs, the Eastern and Western.»

Stalin banned the Greek-Catholics and forced them to join the Orthodox Church. Those who refused were harshly persecuted and even killed. Their ecclesiastical properties were seized and given to the Orthodox Church.

With perestroika, the Greek-Catholics were restored juridically, and an attempt was made to restore some of their confiscated property. The Moscow Patriarchate opposed the restoration, since the property included parishes which for decades formed part of the Orthodox Church.

«The future of our Church is to be a bridge, or better yet, a mediator between the Latin West and the Byzantine East,» Cardinal Husar said. «Being astride these two cultures, we want to help both to understand one another mutually, because the difficulties we find in the ecumenical field are due above all to ignorance, and ignorance generates fear.»

The objective of the papal visit is to help overcome these misunderstandings, the Greek-Catholic cardinal said. «If there was greater mutual understanding,» he said, «there would be less fear.»

For his part, Cardinal Jaworski explained that one of the great problems in the dialogue with Orthodoxy is due to the schisms that have occurred, especially in recent years.

«In my archdiocese,» he said, «in addition to the Catholic Church there are four branches of the Orthodox Church. With the exception of Catholics, those who call themselves Christians do not know why they belong to one branch or another. They do not know why they go to one Church and not the other.»

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