KIEV, Ukraine, JUNE 24, 2001 ( Cardinal Lubomyr Husar sighed, hiding the exhaustion of the last few, sleepless weeks.

He traveled a lot between Rome and Kiev to prepare the most difficult of John Paul II´s 94 pastoral visits abroad as Pope. "Oh, if I´d only been told before what it means to be a bishop," the cardinal sighed.

A one-time monk, the 68-year-old archbishop of Lviv is the leader of 5 million Ukrainian Catholics of Eastern rite. This community suffered immensely during the Communist persecution, when Stalin tried to eliminate it by annexing it to the Orthodox Church.

When Lubomyr Husar was young, his family fled from Ukraine to escape the persecution. While he was a monk in Italy of the Order of Constantinople´s great Studion Monastery, he was ordained a bishop in 1977. A few months ago, the Pontiff acknowledged his fidelity and made him a cardinal.

--Cardinal Husar: Certainly, but it is not a personal issue. I have lived in the shadow for a long time, with a very concrete task on the horizon: to return immediately to my homeland to support my brothers´ faith whenever it was necessary. Now, together with my people, I have been able to welcome and embrace the Pope.

--Q: The visit was long in the making.

--Cardinal Husar: If I remember correctly, John Paul II was invited by the Ukrainian Catholic Episcopate, both Greek-Catholic as well as Latin, as early as 1992, two years after the rebirth of our Church. The idea was discussed with the government, but the situation was still too complicated, there were logistical difficulties and many tensions with the Orthodox.

The change came in 1997, when President Leonid Kuchma formally invited the Pope. However, no date was set, which was only decided a few months ago. The Holy Father has prepared with a heart full of emotion and great hope. He has said so many times, over the last few days.

--Q: Why was the Pope so keen on coming to Ukraine?

--Cardinal Husar: It is a country close to his own, a country that Pope Wojtyla knows well ever since he was a priest in Krakow. He was aware of our situation, our suffering, our fidelity to the Church. He always prayed for us, helped us and sustained us.

--Q: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church obedient to the Moscow Patriarchate requested the Pope to delay his visit until the problems with you, the Greek-Catholics, were resolved.

--Cardinal Husar: Look, in the Lviv region, there is only one village in which relations between Greek Catholics and Orthodox are still difficult because of the devolution of one church. The tensions of the early 1990s no longer exist. In more than 100 communities, we Orthodox and Greek-Catholics take turns and use the same church without any problem. What did we have to wait for, before the Pope could come?

--Q: Perhaps they feel offended because the Pope came without asking them for permission.

--Cardinal Husar: But this is real presumption. The Holy Father has come, in the first place, to meet with his faithful. Why should he ask them for permission? There is an invitation from the chief of state -- is that not enough?

I´m afraid they give themselves too much importance; they think that nothing can happen without their consent but, thank God, we are a free country!