KIEV, Ukraine, JUNE 22, 2001 ( Kiev´s Catholic archbishop is all set for John Paul II, who arrives Saturday to begin a historic five-day visit to Ukraine.

"Only the last decorations on the altar are missing," said Archbishop Stanislaw Shyrokoradiuk, who expects 1 million people to come to the capital to greet the Pope.

In Lviv, bastion of Byzantine-rite Catholicism, over 1 million pilgrims are expected as well.

Today, an estimated 40,000 buses are converging on the cities of Kiev and Lviv, carrying people to meet with the Bishop of Rome.

John Paul II will deliver a speech in Ukrainian, and will not have too much trouble, since this language has more in common with Polish than Russian.

In general, people are pleased and curious about the papal visit. Magazines are dedicating their front covers to the Pope, and newspapers have criticized the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for its opposition to the papal visit.

"An incomprehensible posture," one student was quoted as saying. "How can one prohibit someone to visit who contributed to the fall of Communism and, consequently, in a certain sense, to an independent Ukraine?"

Bishop Mitrofan, vicar of Metropolitan Archbishop Vladimir and No. 2 man of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, sees things differently.

"It is true that a few weeks ago the Vatican nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, gave us two proposals," Bishop Mitrofan recalled. "He asked if the Pope could recite a prayer inside the Laura [Monastery of the Grottoes, cradle of Russian Christianity] during his visit to Kiev, and if on that occasion, Metropolitan Vladimir would agree to meet the Pontiff."

There is not talk of it, was the reply.

"We pointed out to him that the Pope´s presence in this sacred Orthodox place would unleash uncontrollable reactions in our faithful and, therefore, should be categorically excluded," Bishop Mitrofan added.

When told that it is not a sign of courtesy to close the door to someone who is calling, he was irate: "The Bishop of Rome has decided to come to Ukraine without asking our opinion and you are talking to me about courtesy?"

Thousands of protesters went to the Parliamentary Palace on Thursday to protest against the papal visit. One banner read: "The Precursor of the Antichrist."

Lay members of Orthodox fraternities, carrying standards and icons, marched next to black-veiled nuns and bearded priests. "We are with the Russians and Byelorussians, not with the Polish Pope!" the protesters cried.

At that point, Communist leader Piotr Simonenko, who heads the strongest political force in the country, joined the protest march. The marchers surrounded him, to get his autograph and thank him for his support.

"They are not demonstrations organized by the hierarchy; it is the spontaneous indignation of our people," Bishop Mitrofan said.

The nuncio, Archbishop Eterovic, was not very impressed by the noisy minority. "The Pope will be very well received because the majority of Ukrainians esteem him for his personality and moral authority," he said.