Russians Impressed With Pope During His Ukraine Trip

Wide Support Seen for a Papal Visit to Moscow

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MOSCOW, JULY 3, 2001 ( Russians seem to be favorable to a papal visit after seeing extensive media coverage of John Paul II´s trip to Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin has already said he is open to a papal visit, though he is cautious so as not to offend the Orthodox Church, according to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Last month, for the first time, a papal visit captured the attention of Russian television and newspapers. Live coverage — and positive media commentaries — tracked John Paul II´s visits to Kiev and Lviv in Ukraine.

“What was most impressive was the Pope´s extraordinary humility and openness,” said Maksim Shevchenko, director of Nezavismaja Gazeta. The newspaper published an interview with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, archbishop of Lviv for Eastern-rite Catholics, in order to make known the point of view of Greek-Catholics. In the past, Greek-Catholics have been demonized by the Russian press.

According to a survey published last week by Interfax Russian agency, 63% of Russians said they want to see John Paul II. Only 17% are opposed to the visit. The poll´s margin of error was not reported.

For years the Communist press portrayed the Pontiff as an authoritarian and despotic head of a foreign hostile power. Instead, Russians saw a frail elderly man, who appeared modest and respectful.

“A nonpolitical leader, a man sincerely dedicated to the cause of unity among Christians, a real surprise for Russia,” is how Aleksander Kyrlezev described the Holy Father. Kyrlezev is a member of the Theological Synodal Commission, which dissents from the Moscow Patriarchate´s official line.

Many newspapers underlined the contrast between this trip and Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II´s visit to Belarus. The Kommersant newspaper published a picture of John Paul II in Kiev, along with a photo of the patriarch in Minsk, embracing authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and voicing opposition to a papal visit to Moscow.

“And yet, there has been a significant opening,” Moscow Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz told the newspaper Avvenire. “For the first time, Patriarch Alexy has not placed the invitation of the Orthodox Church as a condition for the Pope´s trip to Moscow, but simply its agreement. This is what happened in Greece.”

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