2 Million Expected at Papal Events in Ukraine

Orthodox Still Consider Trip «Inopportune»

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KIEV, Ukraine, JUNE 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- More than 2 million Ukrainians are expected to welcome John Paul II during his June 23-27 visit, an event organizer said.

Father Teodozy Yankiv, parish priest of the Greek-Catholic Church, one of the individuals organizing the visit, said Monday that more than 600,000 invitations have been printed for the two ceremonies the Pope will preside over in Kiev, and more than 1.5 million for the ceremony in Lviv.

The Pontiff, who was invited by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the Catholic Church, will visit Kiev and Lviv, in the northeast of the country, where the majority of Ukrainian Catholics live.

This is the first time the Holy Father visits Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet orbit. His visit has sparked protests by the dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Last week, close to 3,000 people, loyal to the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate, protested in Kiev in front of the nunciature to express their opposition to the visit, which they described as «inopportune.» They also criticized what they called «the policy of proselytism» being carried out by the Catholic Church in Ukraine.

In a statement, the Theological Commission of the Orthodox Church emphasized that the Orthodox leaders obedient to Moscow will not have contacts with the Holy Father during his visit.

«There is no doubt that in the present situation, the Pope´s visit, regardless of its status and form, will not resolve the conflict but aggravate it,» the statement said.

Catholics comprise about 5 million of Ukraine´s 50 million inhabitants. During the Soviet period they were persecuted and practiced the faith secretly, but in 1990 the authorities restored their legal status and approved a law for the restitution of their property, which aroused Orthodox opposition.

According to Vatican statistics, in 1995 there were 1,842 Catholic priests in Ukraine; in 2000 there were 2,522, or one priest for every 2,201 Catholics. There are 1,236 seminarians.

Five years ago, the number of catechists was unknown. Today they number 869. In the same period, the number of nuns decreased, from 1,039 to 970.

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